A trust is a legal mechanism for splitting the ownership and the benefit of an asset. For example, if you hold a house on trust for someone else, you would have the legal ownership, but they would have the right to live in the house or to receive any rental income from the property. The person or people who have the legal ownership of an asset held on trust are known as trustees, while the people who benefit from the trust are known as beneficiaries. Trustees look after the assets of the trust on behalf of the beneficiaries, and are legally required to act in their interests.
Every trust is created by a formal document. In the case of a will trust, the will itself is the trust document.
A will trust is any trust that is created by your will. The trust comes into effect on your death. The settlor of the trust (the person who has established the trust) is you, which can be important to know when considering the tax implications of the trust.
In a will trust, your executors usually become the trustees of the will trust and hold the assets belonging to the trust for the benefit of the beneficiaries. You will need to appoint at least two trustees, with the maximum being four.
The assets can be released to the beneficiaries on a desired date or event, such as the beneficiaries reaching 18 or 25. There may also be power for the trustees to use income and/or capital of the will trust for the beneficiaries before the desired date or event.
If a young child inherits the property in an intestacy, the child is not legally entitled to take control of property, usually until they are 18. Instead, the law creates a trust, so that trustees can manage the property on behalf of the child until they can take control of it themselves.
How long does a will trust last?
This depends on how the will is written. It may be that you decide that the will trust should continue until the beneficiaries are 18 or 25 (or some other age), at which point the assets can be distributed to the beneficiaries outright.
Alternatively, a will trust can be set up to last for the duration of the beneficiary’s lifetime (a ‘life interest trust’). The beneficiary will be entitled to the income from the trust assets or to use them during their life, but on their death, the capital will pass under the terms of your will. For example:
- John leaves his share of the family home to his wife, Jane, for her to live in for the rest of her life. After her death, John’s will provides for the house to pass to his children from his first marriage.
- Barry leaves his investment portfolio to his wife, Anne, on life interest trusts. Anne will receive the income from the portfolio while she is alive but on her death the portfolio will pass outright to Barry’s son, George, under the terms of Barry’s will.
Creating a life interest trust of the family home for your surviving spouse or civil partner gives them the security of knowing that they can continue to live in the family home for the remainder of their life before it is passed onto your children or other beneficiaries.
Whatever type of trust is created in a will, the maximum length it can legally last is 125 years but this is usually far longer than is necessary.