Merrill Lynch is making some waves in the trust business.

“[Merrill] has certainly bulked up in hiring and marketing,” says Jonathan Blattmachr, head of the trust and estates department at the New York City law firm of Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy LLP. “I would say they’re one of several of the top trust-and-estate players. They’ve hired one good lawyer who used to work here. It’s my perception that Merrill has become a much more significant player than two years ago when they weren’t even on the radar screen.”

Merrill’s claim of being one of the fastest growing providers of trust and estate planning services “is probably true,” according to a source at Trusts&Estates magazine, like RR, owned by Primedia Corp. “They’ve been very aggressive in going after the high-net-worth individuals in the marketplace.”

Merrill’s International Private Client Group says the company now holds $17 billion in trusts assets, an increase of $7 billion over the last 15 months.

Gerard Aquilina, Merrill’s co-head of wealth management services, says the firm anticipated an increased demand in trust and estate planning services. He cites changes in government regulations and changing demographics as reasons for the firm’s estate- and trust-planning marketing push.

“This is definitely a positive,” says a Merrill broker in the Southwest. “It’s still very early, but over time, this will increase business. These are the types of accounts that are most likely to be retained. Doing trust deeds and estate accounts will become second nature around here. We’re not there yet, but it is becoming a trend.”

As part of its estate-planning push, Merrill has posted a 12-page “Estate Tax Update” on its Web page at www.ml.com.

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