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Trust in financial planning

Making sure that you have your affairs properly planned is a crucial part of financial planning; and trusts can be a useful mechanism in leaving a legacy for your family and future generations.

This is the first in a series of articles on trusts – what is a trust, what are the various types of trusts, who are the parties involved and what are some of the advantages and disadvantages of establishing a trust?

Let’s start from absolute basics and discuss what a trust is.

You have to go back into the mists of time, to the medieval period to find the origins of the law of equity. However, trusts evolved as a way of separating the ownership of property between legal and beneficial ownership. In other words, the legal ownership was retained by one person (a trustee) and the benefit of that property was enjoyed by another person (the beneficiary).

A simple example would be that a property is legally owned by a trustee, who allows the beneficiary to live in the property or receive the rent without ever having legal ownership of the property itself. It’s a separation of the ownership between legal and beneficial.

There are three parties (sometimes four) involved in a trust. The first is the settlor who establishes the trust, appoints the trustees (which may include him/herself) transfers an asset to the trustees and nominates the beneficiaries. The fourth possible party is a protector, who is sometimes seen with offshore trusts. However, let’s not complicate it at this stage.

In order for a trust to be valid, there needs to be three certainties. These were established in law by a famous case that occurred as far back as 1840 known as Knight -v- Knight; and that law still stands to this day.

The three certainties are the basic ingredients that must exist in order for a trust to be valid. These are, certainty of intention, certainty of object and certainty of subject. In very basic terms, the settlor must have intended to create a trust; you must be able to identify the assets of the trust (the subject) and the beneficiaries (the objects) must be named or identified or at least defined so they can be ascertained. If any one of these tests are failed, then the trust is unlikely to be valid.

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