What is a trust?

Posted on 12th September 2023 by Streets Inheritance Tax


Image to represent What is a trust?

A trust is an obligation that binds a trustee, an individual or a company, to deal with assets such as land, money and shares which form part of the trust. The person who places assets into a trust is known as a settlor and the trust is for the benefit of one or more 'beneficiaries'. The act of transferring an asset - such as money, land or buildings - into a trust is often known as ‘making a settlement’ or ‘settling property’. For Inheritance Tax (IHT) purposes, each asset has its own separate identity. 

HMRC’s manuals states the following when describing what is a trust:

The law of trusts is based upon the concept of English law that property rights can be split into:

  • the legal ownership, and
  • the beneficial interest.

A person who is the absolute owner of property has both the legal and beneficial interest in it. This means that the owner will show up as legal owner, for example, on a land register or on a company register, and will also enjoy any benefit produced by the property.

The absolute owner may split the legal interest from the beneficial enjoyment. This can be done by giving the legal ownership to trustees and the beneficial interest to a named beneficiary (or beneficiaries). Alternatively the owner can keep the legal title and make themselves a trustee.

The rules are complex and there are different types of trusts that need to be considered, such as a joint property or bare trust.


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