Gratuitous disposition of property in favour of another = usually an absolute gift. But can sometimes be conditional gift/gift subject to a charge. Conditional – ie gift of a house to A on condition that B live there rent free for life. Subject to charge – gift of house to P, subject to P paying £10,000 to E. Also can make gift on trust ( eg transfer of property ‘to Terry on trust for Ben’. Terry = trustee; Ben = beneficiary. T = legal owner, B the equitable/beneficial owner. Note: not every express trust is created gratuitously – in the example, the settler may have been under a contractual obligation to create trust for Ben.
When settler creates a trust – free to define obligations of the trustees and entitlement of the beneficiaries as he sees fit, subject only to limitations imposed for reasons of public policy. He can provide that trustees should be bound to care for only part of the trust fund. If he intends that trustees should speculate recklessly with the fund with a view of doubling it or losing it all within a 2yr period, he may so provide and ‘no beneficiary can complain if the money is lost’.
This great freedom can lead to uncertainty. Even when disposition made in writing, not always clear that a trust has been created – and even when that is clear, not always clear what the terms are. Sometimes courts are to adjudicate between litigating parties with competing interpretations of terms of a disposition. Other times, trustees merely require guidance in a particular matter, so the court will make an ‘order for directions’.
Where Q to be resolved = a fundamental one – disposition intended to be given effect by way of express trust or absolute gift? – courts hold absolute gift unless its certain from the context and expressions that the person making the disposition intended to create a trust. Usually the very fact that the court has been called upon, shows there is insufficient certainty that a trust will arise. If it is clear that a trust is intended – then secondary question – eg ‘who is entitled to the benefit of this trust and in what proportions?’ – court will try to interpret the words and conduct used as much as possible to give effect to the trust.
Courts apply the rule of construction certum est quod certum redid potest – ‘that is certain which can be made certain’. Lord Langdale MR – about testamentary trust in Knight v Knight: “In the construction and execution of wills, it is undoubtedly the duty of this court to give effect to the intention of the testator whenever it can be ascertained”
The three certainties apply to both gifts and trusts although the concept was first propounded in relation to trusts (in Knight v Knight (1840) 3 Beav 148 – Lord Langdale identified the 3 certainties. These need to be satisfied before a court will acknowledge that a settlor/testator has created a private express trust). The certainty of intention referred to is that of the donor or settlor/testator, the certainty of subject matter refers to the property which is being transferred, and the certainty of object is the person or persons who will benefit from the gift or under the trust.
This seminar focuses on the first two certainties, of intention and of subject matter. Certainty of objects is introduced, and will be examined more closely in seminar 4, as a continuation of the same topic.
3 certainties - The said law must have had intention to create a trust. The trust property must be sufficiently certain. The beneficiaries must be adequately identified.
According to Lord Langdale – there will be no difficulty in applying these to ‘simple cases’ but: “in the infinite variety of expressions which are employed... there is often the greatest difficult in determining, whether the act desired of recommended is an act which the testator intended to be executed as a trust, or which the court ought to deem fit to be, or capable of being enforced as such” 2. Certainty of intention
Requirement there to protect transferors and transferees of property. Protects transferors – ensures property is applied only in accordance with their expressed intentions. Protects transferees by ensuring that they are burdened with trust obligations only when it ought to have been clear to them that they were to take the property as trustees.
The donor's intention guides the court in distinguishing between gifts and trusts, and in determining which of the alternative methods of transfer outlined in Milroy v Lord is applicable to the particular disposition being considered.
As noted in Seminar 2, making a gift involves expressing an intention that the property should not be retained ‘in the donor’s own hands for any purpose, fiduciary or otherwise’ (per Jessel MR in Richards v Delbridge (1874) LR 18 Eq 11).
No express trust unless original owner certainly intended to create one, but also no express trust if intention = expressed with insufficient certainty to bind the conscience of the recipient.
The intention necessary to create a trust must include the settlor’s (or testator’s, as applicable) intention to transfer to the beneficiary the equitable title to the property. In the case of self-declaration of trust, it must be clear that the settlor retains only the legal title; in the case where the legal title to the trust property is to be transferred to trustee(s), that intention must be made clear. Intention is particularly important in trusts, as trustees have onerous fiduciary duties. On the intention necessary to create a trust, Lord Langdale MR said in Knight v Knight that: ‘It is undoubtedly the duty of this court to give effect to the intention of the testator whenever it can be ascertained.
But it is not every wish or expectation which a testator may express, nor every act which he may wish his successors to do, that can or ought to be executed as a trust in this Court’. ( eg Jones v Lock. If outright gift has failed, can we say that there is a trust – that’s where language of father became important. Court said no, there’s nothing there that suggests that a trust has been created. Another perspective on substance not form. Courts will look at substance as generously as possible but cannot be too generous – need to be satisfied that there was an intention to create the trust.
Intention is a question of substance – no need for technical legal language ie without use of words such as “trust” or “confidence” etc. BUT if the settlor omits to using the word ‘trust’: “he must do something which is equivalent to it, and use expressions which have that meaning for, however anxious the court may be to carry out a man’s intentions, it is not at liberty to construe words otherwise than according to their proper meaning” (Richards v Delbridge). Also, even if ‘trust’ has been used – may be possible (unlikely) that he doesn’t intend to create a justiciable private trust. Might not wish to impose obligations of any sort on the recipient – eg Grandad gives money to grandchild “I trust you will get yourself a nice jumper”.
Knight v Knight – where the 3 certainties come from. They apply to express trusts – an express trust cannot exist unless the 3 certainties are present. In context of intention – the court wants to be satisfied that the settler wanted to create a trust – any doubt – usually means intention is not in place. Strict because the creation of trust comes with obligations that are placed upon the trustees. So courts want to be satisfied that trust was intended – reluctant to impose these onerous obligations on the trustees. Also self interest – if trustees are not on the document, then the court will be called upon to administer the trust – court has to do the job.
Also useful in context of purpose trusts (beneficiary principle) and implied trusts (where aspects are dispensed with).
How do courts decided that intention has been satisfied? ‘It is well settled that a trust can be created without using the words “trust” or “confidence” or the like: the question is whether in substance a sufficient intention to to create a trust has been manifested’ - Megarry J, Re Kayford Ltd  1 WLR 279
Question of substance over form – not particular phrase to look for Certain amount of discretion here that will apply to work out if trust or not.
Function of intention test: • Imposition of a trust has far-reaching effect: – Owner loses interest in it; – Enforceable rights created for a beneficiary;
– Onerous obligations imposed on a trustee; • Courts, therefore, must be sure that creation of a trust was truly intended; • As a consequence, courts are not usually indulgent in finding the test is met;
Objective or subjective: • Substance rather than form: what did settlor intend? – Tito v Waddell (No 2) – use of word ‘trust’ not definitive – Midland Bank v Wyatt – must be genuine • Paul v Constance – Words and/or conduct – Borderline case • Objective approach – Twinsectra Ltd v Yardley – Justifiable? (who is court protecting?) – Consistent? (sham cases)
Courts have approached this area as an objective test. Would a reasonable man say there is intention? But litigation impact that seem to be created for the avoidance of tax liabilities. So courts want to guard against that. If test was entirely subjective, they may say they’re trying to create a trust – but actually just trying to avoid liabilities.
Also will look at conduct – Paul v Constance – Mr C splits from wife and begins relationship with Miss P. At the start, Mr C has a cheque for £950 – damages from a personal injury case. Miss P had no entitlement to the sum. Then they both open a joint account – because P + C aren’t married, they can’t open the account in both their names – just in Mr C’s name. The £950 goes in. Mr C ensures Miss P that the money is just as much hers as it is his.
Then go to bingo – bingo winnings go into the account. From the account, they then withdraw £150, divide equally. Mr C dies. Mrs C reappears to claim money in the account. Q for a court – was a trust created here? Answer: Yes, a valid trust had been created through words (the money is just as much yours as it is mine) and through contact (Mr C treated money in and out as both Mr C’s and Miss P’s). Court emphasised they will look to words and conduct to decide whether a trust has been created.
Objective approach – criticised? Why not subjective? Who is the court trying to protect? Yes might have situation where someone is fraudulently create a trust but aside from that most times they aren’t fraudulent.
2.1 Trusts: Issues of construction
The court must endeavour to ascertain and give effect to the settlor’s or testator’s intention. Note that there is no need for express words of trust to be used; conversely, use of the term ‘trust’ does not necessarily create a trust (Tito v Waddell (No. 2)  Ch 106. Even if the document clearly purports to create an express trust, the intention to create a trust must be genuine rather than entered into as a sham, to deceive or to defraud (Midland Bank v Wyatt  1 FLR 696).
In most cases there will be a written document, e.g. a will, although in some cases there is no documentary evidence to assist the court, for example in Paul v Constance ( 1 WLR 54 and in Gold v Hill  1 FLR 54.
The approach to construing written documents was fundamentally altered by the House of Lords in Investors Compensation Scheme Ltd v West Bromwich Building Society  1 WLR 896, HL, in which it was said that interpretation is the ascertainment of the meaning which the document would convey to a reasonable person having all the background knowledge which would reasonably have been available to the parties in the situation in which they were at the time of the contract. Shows court approach – when courts are construing the documents – they want to be satisfied that the interpretation of the meaning of the document that it would be the decision of a reasonable person with the background knowledge (matrix of facts).
This relevant background knowledge is sometimes called the ‘matrix of fact’. Courts will construe meaning of all the words available. Discretion – court look to substance, not form but also court take strict approach as well. Courts recognise that expression generally can be very vague – can look like they’re trying to settle the trust but they are in fact not. In Staden v Jones  EWCA Civ 936, the Court of Appeal adopted this approach. An inter vivos document, a Memorandum of Agreement made between a husband and wife in the course of a divorce, did not expressly establish a trust but was accompanied by a lengthier solicitors’ letter which the court decided it would be artificial to exclude.
Together the two documents were construed as establishing a trust of which the beneficiary was the daughter of the parties to the Memorandum.
In interpreting written wills, extrinsic evidence, including evidence of the testator’s intention, may be admitted if the language used is meaningless or ambiguous: s. 21 Administration of Justice Act 1982. Note that in the commercial context, establishing an intention to create a trust may protect mail-order customers when a company becomes insolvent (see Re Kayford Ltd (in liquidation)  1 WLR 279; cf. Re Farepak Food and Gifts Ltd (in administration)  EWHC 3272 Ch).
2.2 Trusts: The use of imperative or precatory word
No trust if the donor appeals to the donee to apply the property in a particular way instead of obliging the done to do so. “hope”/”feel confident”/”desire” etc. Used to be allowed but counsel in Knight v Knight acknowledged this was disapproved of.
Looking at language ie precatory words – ie I hope my wife will see my money to do this etc... Courts have said these words are not sufficient ( see slide (precatory words): • Implication, hope, petition not enough;
– Lambe v Eames ‘in any way she thinks best’ • Courts insist upon imperative: obligation instead of appeal • However courts adopt holistic approach – Comiskey v Bowring-Hanbury (1905)
Holistic approach – mere fact of use of precatory words – doesn’t mean intention isn’t satisfied – might be able to satisfy later on. Comiskey – testator gives wife his estate – “gives to nieces as she thinks fit” – clearly a precatory word. If this was all document said, intention wouldn’t have been satisfied. But then will stated “I hereby direct that all estate given to wife, shall be equally divided to all surviving said nieces” ( imperative. Later presence of imperative words superseded the earlier precatory words.
In Knight v Knight, Lord Langdale MR said there will be a trust 'if the words are so used, that upon the whole, they ought to be construed as imperative'. Imperative language is authoritative and commanding, and unambiguously places an obligation on the trustee. Precatory language, on the other hand, is entreating or merely hopeful. A disposition couched in precatory words would once have been accepted by the Court of Chancery as creating a trust, but the tide turned in the cases of Lambe v Eames (1870-71) LR 6 Ch App 597 (‘in any way she may think best’) and Re Adams and Kensington Vestry (1884) 27 Ch D 394 (‘in full confidence that she will do what is right’).
The wording of these dispositions was held to be precatory rather than imperative, and thus took the form of gifts rather than trusts. Subsequent decisions, for example in Re Diggles (1888) 39 Ch D 253 (‘it is my desire’) and Re Johnson  2 All ER 458 (‘I request’), confirmed that imperative, not merely precatory, words are required to create a trust. Re Diggles – typical of the modern approach to precatory words.
Testatrix left all her real and personal property to her daughter, expressing her “desire” that her daughter should pay an annuity of £25 to a named relative and “allow” that relative to use whatever household furniture her daughter didn’t need. For several years, annuity was paid but eventually discontinued. The annuitant applied to court claiming that the daughter became a trustee – COA held otherwise – no trust – expression of “desire” = precatory and construing the will as a whole, it couldn’t be said that she intended to create a trust of the annuity.
Daughter had a mere ‘moral duty to pay reasonable attention to the wishes of the testatrix” However, note that in exceptional circumstances a trust may still be found from precatory words if, on a proper construction, such was the intention of the testator. In Comiskey v Bowring Hanbury  AC 84, a testator’s complex directions were held to create a trust when read as a whole, despite the inclusion of precatory words. In the unusual case of Re Steele’s WT  Ch 603 precatory wording had been copied from a 1868 precedent (which pre-dated Lambe v Eaves), yet was held to create a trust eighty years later, as this is what the testatrix had intended.
Formal dispositions: If using a formal document ie will – court tries to ascertain intention ‘from the words he has used ... in light of such knowledge of relevant facts as ... he must have had’ - looks to natural meaning according to the context – surrounding circumstances. Extraneous evidence as to the meanings ie from barristers opinions = not accepted. And court also won’t look at similar transactions previously carried out by the same testator or settlor as evidence of his intention in the instant case. Courts are even reluctant to take into account the construction that other courts have placed on similar words in the past (Lambe v Eaves).
BUT – If a disposition is made in terms reproducing exactly the peculiar wording of a disposition considered in a previously reported case – court may infer that the person making the present disposition intended to achieve the same result achieved in the earlier case – Re Steele’s Will Trusts – testatrix left heirloom to her soon to be held by him for his eldest son and so on ‘as far as the rules of law and equity will permit’ and with the request that the son should ‘do all in his power by his will or otherwise to effect to this my wish’ – exact phrasing from an earlier precedent – held: testatrix made clear her intention to achieve the same outcome of the earlier case, namely a trust.
Without exact precedent – construction of formal dispositions = case by case basis. Hard to determine whether a gift or trust was intended.
Lambe v Eames – testator left entire estate to his widow “to be at her disposal in any way she may think best, for the benefit of herself and her family” – held: these words hadn’t created trust in favour of her family. Re Williams – no trust when testator provided by his will that all his real and personal property should pass to his wife ‘in full confidence that she would do what was right’ as to the disposal between his children, either in her lifetime or by will after her death. Lack of detailed directions in both cases = uncertainty ( indicated neither testator had intended to subject his widow to a binding trust.
Contrasting case – Comiskey v Bowring-Hanbury – testator’s very detailed directions where held to demonstrate a clear intention to create an express trust. Initial part ‘absolutely in full confidence’ may have created an absolute gift had it appeared on its own. NB: word ‘confidence’ likely to create uncertainty – could create 2 quite opposite states of putting faith in others and having faith in oneself. But the direction - that in any event, the nieces should acquire an interest – showed that testator intended to create binding trust on widow.
Pragmatic approach to construction of intention 2 contrasting cases, first instance, only a few years apart: - Re The Trusts of the Abbott Fund – doc collected £500 from many people for the ‘maintenance and support’ of two elderly deaf sisters. But – they died, left surplus of £367 on the fund. Q – was there an absolute gift or was it subject to a trust for no other purpose other than their maintenance and support? - Re Andrew’s Trust – fund set up to finance education of certain children.
They grew up and surplus of monies left. Same Q as above. - Facts of both = similar, hard to see that donors to the 2 funds differed very much in intentions of making their donations. But – held in 1st case: surplus should be held on a resulting trust for the donors to the fund in proportion to their contribution. But then in 2nd case held: surplus should be divided equally between the children. - Hard to see justification for difference in decisions apart from the pragmatic one. First case – donees had died; second case – donees still alive – that is why they were distinguished - Re Osoba – judge stated both cases may have been right on their facts. Re Osoba = somewhat a factual hybrid of the two.
Testator made a bequest to his widow for her ‘maintenance’ and to his daughter for her ‘training... up to University grade’. Shortly after widow’s death, daughter completed university education. Testator’s son claimed for a share of the surplus that hadn’t been used for the daughter’s education – failed. Held: gift = absolute gift to wife and daughter equally, the expression of the purposes for which the gift was to be used was merely an indication of the testator’s move for making it. NB: use of ‘up to University grade’ – may be nothing more than helpful guidance to trustees as to timing of the final disposition of capital.
Oddie v Brown: ‘words which in other cases might import condition or contingency may be used merely for the purpose of conveying the necessary directions to the trustees”. Letter of wishes outside the will = less formal, therefore more appropriate, means of communicating such guidance
Informal dealings When not using formal document – extra significance is placed on the surrounding context. Jones v Lock: 1863 – Jones, an iron monger, returned home from Wales after business in Birmingham. Was in kitchen with wife, baby son, baby’s nurse. Nurse remarked he hadn’t returned with a present for his son. Jones responded saying he gave him a pair of boots and “now I will give him a handsome present” – produced £900 cheque, payable to himself – “Look you here, I give to this baby; it is for himself” – placed cheque in baby’s hand. Wife said “don’t let him tear it”.
Jones’s response: “doesn’t matter, its his own, can do what he likes” and then took the cheque saying he was going to put it away for him. Jones died 6 days later, cheque found amongst possessions. 1st instance: valid declaration of trust by father for baby
COA: no valid gift no valid declaration of trust in favour of the infant. Too loose of a conversation – dangerous if allowed. Fact that Mr J met with solicitor to discuss intention to settle the money on the baby changed nothing.
Dangers alluded though didn’t deter COA in Paul v Constance from holding that trust had been declared of money in a bank account on the basis of equally casual statements. See earlier for facts. Looked at conduct too. Fact that deceased expressed his intentions on more than one occasion = essential to establishing the seriousness of his desire to create a trust. One off statement may have been judged to be a loose conversation as in Jones case. Court’s decision here was pragmatic – if had dismissed the claim, Mrs P would have been left with nothing and estranged wife of Mr C would have received a windfall at Mrs P’s expense.
Risk of insolvency – virtual certainty that there will be insufficient funds to fully satisfy the legitimate claims of creditors against personal estate of the insolvent party. Follows – Cs in commercial contexts may be anxious to establish they have proprietary rights under trusts, especially where D is already insolvent.
Re Kayford Ltd (in liquidation) – Cs were successful. They were customers of a mail-order company – each paid the full price or deposit prior to receipt of goods. Company – financial trouble – accountants advised it to set up a ‘customers trust deposit account’ – to hold customers monies until delivery of their goods – to protect customers from insolvency of company. Company accepted advice but continued to pay customers monies into existing, dormant accounts for several months before eventually renaming the account to what was advised. Then company went into voluntary liquidation and liquidator asked court whether balance of monies in the special account belonged to the customers or the company’s general creditors.
Held: customers entitled to money in account – intention to create trust = manifestly clear, despite the failure to use a separate nominated ‘trust’ account from the outset. Megarry J held: when concerning public, proper and honourable for company to do what it did – to pay money into trust account if unable to deliver goods/provide services. [also made reference that similar could occur to beneficiaries who aren’t drawn from the general public]
Result ( would appear to make sense to, when payment is made in advance of delivery or the rendering of services, to make payments expressly ‘on trust’ for provision of those goods or services. Although doubtful that even equity lawyers do this in practice. Megarry J suggested different principles may apply to an attempt by trade creditors to establish trusts in insolvency but since – even trade creditors have had some notable successes.
Re Lewis’s of Leicester Ltd – insolvent company traded as a department store. Floor space = licensed to concessionaires on a ‘shop within a shop’ basis. Traders sold own goods on Lewis’s premises but paid takings into Lewis’s tills – some of which were paid into a separate bank account in Lewis’s name. Key Q – whether monies in the separate bank account had been held on trust for the concessionaires or whether concessionaires should be treated as normal trade creditors. Held: concessionaires entitled to recover monies under a trust, but that Lewis’s (and therefore Lewis’s general creditors) = entitled to assert own beneficial claim to the fund to extent of its entitlement to commission on gross till receipts. Observed that trusts = very versatile, can be used for a wide variety of commercial arrangements.
2.3 Effect of failure of certainty of intention
In the case of gifts, intention is a component of delivery at common law, so uncertainty of intention means the property is not transferred and hence the gift is invalidated.
See consequence of no certainty of intention slide: • Purported self-declaration of trust invalid -- would-be trustee remains absolute owner of the property (as in Jones v Lock) • Where valid transfer of the legal title in the purported trust property to trustee(s), no trust will arise and the trustee(s) will take the property as an absolute gift (as in Lambe v Eames)
A purported self-declaration of trust will be invalid if no certainty of intention can be found, so the would-be trustee remains absolute owner of the property (as in Jones v Lock).
If there is uncertainty about the intention to create a trust but there has been a valid transfer of the legal title in the purported trust property to trustee(s), no trust will arise and the trustee(s) will take the property as an absolute gift. (as in Lambe v Eames)
3. Certainty of subject matter
As long as the subject matter of a trust is capable of being located – mere evidential uncertainty as to its location will not cause the trust to fail – following from principle certum est quod certum reddi potest (that is certain which can be made certain). But trust may fail if evidential difficulties in identifying the subject matter. Ie “my special cufflinks” – will fail if no evidence adduced to identify the particular set the settlor had in mind.
The property which is to be the subject of the gift or trust must be specified with reasonable certainty, in objective rather than subjective terms. For example, in Re Kolb’s Will Trusts  Ch 531 the term ‘blue chip securities’ was held uncertain and therefore invalid. Note that testamentary gifts or trusts specifically of the residue of the deceased’s estate are perfectly valid because ‘residue’ is a technical term which satisfies the test of certainty of subject matter.
3.1 There are two possible ways in which subject matter may be uncertain:
3.1.1 Failure to define the actual property
• Property must be identifiable: – Palmer v Simmonds - ‘bulk’ of residuary estate – too uncertain – Re Kolb’s Will Trust – ‘blue chip’ securities – Re London Wine Co -- bottles of wine – Strict approach to issue. • ‘I cannot see how, for instance, a farmer who declares himself a trustee of two sheep (without identifying them) can be said to have created a perfect and complete trust... And it would seem to me to be immaterial that at the time he has a flock of sheep out of which he could satisfy the interest’ per Oliver J, Re London Wine Co.
A number of cases where a trust or gift failed for lack of certainty of subject matter illustrate the need for precision in drafting. For example, in Palmer v Simmonds  2 Drew 221, the term ‘the bulk of my estate’ was considered uncertain – may fail on grounds of ‘conceptual’ or ‘linguistic’ uncertainty; and in in re Jones  1 Ch 328 the words ‘such parts of my estate as she shall not have sold’ were held to be insufficiently certain to create a trust. In Anthony v Donges  2 FLR 775 a provision for ‘such minimal part of the estate as she might be entitled to under English law for maintenance purposes’ failed.
However, see Re Golay’s Will Trusts  1 WLR 969 for a more generous (and much criticised) approach which allowed the beneficiary ‘to enjoy one of my flats during her lifetime and to receive a reasonable income from my other properties’. – was allowed because the court is constantly involved in making objective assessments of what is ‘reasonable’.
Some more problematic cases concern gifts which have purportedly been made subject to a trust to take effect at a later date, where the subject matter of the trust is part of the same property that formed the subject matter of the gift.
Conceptual uncertainty may be fatal to an entire trust or merely to a particular power conferred on the trustees. For the latter – Re Kolb’s Will Trusts – testator purported to grant his trustees power to invest in ‘blue chips’ securities. Court held: ‘blue chip’ status = not capable of being assessed objectively. (‘Blue chip’ = loose description of stocks and shares that demonstrate prolonged secure and profitable performance).
Even if trust property and trust beneficiaries are ascertained/ascertainable – trust will fail if no means of ascertaining which part of the subject matter is to go to which of the beneficiaries.
The rule of construction at common law is that a purported gift to the first recipient will be absolute, unless the purported ‘gift over’ to the second recipient is equally clear in cutting down the interest of the first recipient to a mere life interest: Leslie v Earl of Rothes  2 Ch 499, 516 (CA)). Therefore, the more common construction is to find an absolute gift to the first recipient, so that the ‘gift over’ to the second recipient fails. In Sprange v Barnard (1789) 2 Bro CC 585, for example, the testatrix left a bequest to her husband and tried to create a trust for ‘the remaining part of what is left’ on his death. The trust failed and the husband took the property as an absolute gift.
In the unlikely event that there clearly is a valid ‘gift over’ of the property to a second recipient on the death of the first recipient (e.g. Re Last  1 All ER 316), the first recipient’s life interest entitles them to enjoy the property, but not to dissipate it (e.g. a life interest in land entitles one to use the land, but not to sell it). An occasional problem in home-made wills, as identified by the Law Reform Committee (Cmnd 5301), is the inadvertent creation of life estates with a gift over.
This leaves the surviving partner/spouse unable to sell the house to pay for matters such as care bills. Section 22 of the Administration of Justice Act 1982 attempts to deal with this problem. It establishes a statutory rebuttable presumption that testamentary gifts of property to spouses are absolute, notwithstanding a simultaneous gift of interests in the same property to the children. See Harrison v Gibson  1 All ER 858.
3.1.2 Failure to identify beneficiaries’ respective interests in the subject matter
Even if the actual property subject to the trust is certain, the trust will nonetheless fail if the respective interests of the beneficiaries are not ascertainable. In some cases the court will overcome the problem by recourse to the maxim ‘Equity is Equality’ (Burrough v Philcox (1840) 5 Myl & Cr 72).
The problem of uncertainty of subject-matter sometimes arises in the case of wills, where a testator gives individuals a power to choose some property amongst a larger class identified in the will. Such a power is almost necessarily personal to the donee; if they fail to exercise it, the power cannot be exercised by someone else: Skelton v Younghouse  AC 571, 577. The unusual case of Boyce v Boyce (1849) 6 Sim 476 illustrates how a failure to exercise such a power may lead to regrettable results if the remainder of the class of property after selection is given to another donee, specifically and not by means of a residuary gift.
2 houses left on trust for daughters – directed that youngest should have remaining house after eldest had chosen hers – trust in favour of the youngest daughter failed after eldest daughter died before making her choice. NB: although trust fails due to uncertainty of subject matter, the property itself is certain and will be held by the trustee under a resulting trust for the testator’s estate. Where possible, however, the courts look to find a workable solution in cases involving rights to select: e.g. Re Knapton  Ch 428.
3.2 Issues arising from 'property in bulk'
• Tangible personal property (chattels) – Re London Wine Co  – Problem of identifying ownership in unascertained goods – Protection provided by Sale of Goods Act (Am) 1995 does not apply to trusts only contracts for sale of goods • Intangible personal property (chose in action)
– Hunter v Moss ; Re Harvard Securities  – Courts found ownership of shares less problematic – Controversial – what if trustee had sold some shares? • Different approach compared to defined property?
– Re Golay’s WT  • Beneficiary to ‘enjoy one of my flats during her lifetime and to receive a reasonable income from my other properties’ • Questions: Which flat? What is reasonable income? • Gift upheld: trustees capable of selecting a property and court could objectively identify reasonable income – Problem: cf Re Kolb – ‘blue chip securities’ – Distinction? Once trust established court should try not to let it fail?
Trusts of a homogeneous mass –
Difficulties over certainty of subject matter have arisen where the property concerned forms a homogenous mass, or bulk (see Worthington, 1999) This has been a particularly important issue in the context of commercial insolvency; see Re London Wine  PCC 121 and Re Goldcorp Exchange  1 AC 64, both of which cases were concerned with chattels.
if a mass of property comprises a number of substantially distinct but apparently identical parts – ie flock of sheep, barrel of apples, stack of gold ingots (Re Goldcorp Exchange – gold bullion held by the company for its customers hadn’t been turned into identifiable ingots) or cellar of wine of particular vintage from a certain chateau (Re London Wine) – a trust of the constituent parts will fail for uncertainty unless the relevant parts are identified.
Certain percentages is fine but eg – must define which 2 sheep from flock if giving that. Otherwise trustees would be obliged to care for whole flock to ensure the relevant 2 were cared for. Re London Wine – company, a wine merchant, conducted business on understanding that wine would be held on trust for its customers until the moment it was delivered to them.
Company’s publicity even described its customers as ‘beneficial owners’ of any wine ordered and described the company as having nothing more than an unpaid vendor’s lien (a form of charge) over the wine from the date of each order until receipt of payment. Very existence of the lien confirmed that, from the date of each order, the vendor was no longer to be regarded as the beneficial owner of the purchased wine, because the purpose of the ‘unpaid vendor’s lien’ is to authorize the vendor to retain possession of goods in which beneficial ownership has already passed to the purchaser until the vendor is paid. Still – despite co’s expressed intention to create trusts, trusts failed, because it wasn’t co’s policy physically to segregate the subject matter of each order from its general stock.
But – “money in a bank account” – not treated with same difficulty – express trust of £1000 = still valid, don’t need to assess which exact bank notes is used. According to COA in Hunter v Moss – same is true of shares in a company.
The case of Hunter v Moss  1 WLR 452 concerned choses in action. D + C had conversation – D declared himself to be trustee for C of 5% of issued share capital of Moss Electrical Co Ltd. Total issued share capital comprised 1000 shares so if the trust was valid, D would be trustee of 50 shares for C.
COA held requirement of certainty of subject matter didn’t require segregation of 50 shares from the total body of shares as shares held by D = indistinguishable from each other. So any 50 shares were capable of satisfying the trust. Here, an oral declaration of trust by the defendant succeeded, even though the subject matter of the trust was 5% of a company’s issued share capital (1,000 shares, of which the defendant owned 950).
The Court of Appeal distinguished shares, as undifferentiated choses in action, from chattels, although this decision was delivered before the Privy Council’s decision in Goldcorp and has been criticised. Note: identical shares may exhibit substantial differences according to number of shares held. IE person may sell controlling shares for high value and retain a certain amount in the company which may have little value. Person claiming may say his/her shares are those which were included in the valuable sale as opposed to those retained in the company of lesser value. ( may lead to criticisms of Hunter case.
But – in defence of decision – submitted that the trust in that case was quite rightly binding on the conscience of the settlor because he had the power to segregate and therefore ascertain the particular 50 shares he had in mind even though he didn’t in fact segregate them. Argument is by analogy to the rule that a trustee of an express trust isn’t permitted to escape his trust by mixing trust property with his own. If not allowed to escape trust by creating a homogenous mass, cannot do so when it lies within power to segregate the particular 50 shares subject to the trust.
However, Hunter v Moss was approved in Re Harvard Securities  2 BCLC 369 as being a correct statement of the law in relation to shares.
In Hunter v Moss – judge at 1st instance distinguished Re London Wine on the basis that the principles applicable to trusts of a homogeneous mass of intangible property ie shares are different to those applicable to trusts of tangible property ie wine. Suggested – only in the case of tangibles might ‘ostensibly similar or identical assets... in cat have characteristics which distinguish them from other assets in the class. That distinction – upheld on appeal – followed in Re Harvard Securities – court held: it’s possible to have a valid equitable assignment of unappropraited shares but not of unappropriated chattels.
Problem with H v M distinction between trusts of tangible and intangible property is that it suggests a distinction in equity that has no counterpart in the common law of the sale of goods. From cases ie Barclays Bank v Quistclose – trust may be employed as a secondary device to give effect to a valid contract that has, for some reason, been frustrated, but H v M suggests the quite different and undesirable possibility that a valid trust might be declared of unallocated intangible property when a contract for the sale of such property could never have been specifically enforceable.
Note that the Sale of Goods (Amendment Act) 1995 now protects purchasers in the context of insolvency. It provides that at common law the purchaser of a share of bulk property acquires ownership as a tenant in common with other purchasers, in proportion to the amount paid for. However, this only applies to contracts for the sale of goods, so offers little assistance with trusts.
Another problem with distinction of tangible and intangible property – assumes that apparently identical intangible property is necessarily substantially identical. Not the case when voting powers attached to different sized blocks of ordinary shares are taken into account.
When Privy Council heard case Re Goldcorp Exchange Ltd – it did shortly before COA decided Hunter v Moss – so Privy C applied Re London Wine free of the caution expressed about that case in H v M. Goldcorp Exchange Ltd = company dealing in gold and other precious metals. Became insolvent, receivers applied to the High Court of New Zealand for directions in relation to the disposal of the company’s remaining stock of gold bullion.
Company had been in business of selling gold, but its practice had been to give its customers a certificate of ownership rather than the metal. Company retained actual gold in bullion form. Customers were nevertheless in no doubt that they were acquiring interests in actual gold and not merely in a ‘gilt-edged security’. Certificate read:
“This is to certify that [name] is the registered holder of [quantity] fine gold. The above metal is stored and insured free of charge by Goldcorp Exchange Ltd on a non-allocated basis. Delivery may be taken upon 7 days notice and payment of delivery charges. The owner shall be entitled to the collection of the bullion, or funds from the sale of bullion, only upon presentation of this certificate”.
Lordships – emphasising the primacy of the contractual agreement between the parties – held: no property in any bullion passed to the customers under the contracts, because a vendor of unascertained generic goods is permitted to deliver any goods in satisfaction of a contract as long as they answer the contractual description. No customer could have acquired a proprietary interest in the bullion until the very gold they were entitled to had been ascertained. Further – held that company wasn’t estopped from denying the title of those customers to whom it had given an express assurance of secure title to the bullion.
Lordships reasoned that estoppel couldn’t be established in relation to an unappropriated part of a homogeneous mass unless the mass itself was fixed and capable of being identified with certainty when the express assurance was given. In this case – Goldcorp’s bullion reserves were changing constantly, so estoppel = not possible. Customers’ claims to be entitled under trusts declared in their favour likewise failed due to uncertainty of subject matter.
Because no fixed bulk out of which trusts could have been declared, the only alternative would have been to recognise trusts floating over the company’s entire stock-in-trade. Lordships couldn’t accept that the company would’ve intended to create trusts over its entire stock of gold (sold and unsold) – consequence of which would have been to prevent any dealing with the gold otherwise than by delivery to its customers. No express trust would have been intended in such circumstances and no other trust should be inferred: “it is possible without misuse of language to say that the customers put faith in the company, and that their trust has not been repaid. But the vocabulary is misleading; high expectations do not necessarily lead to equitable remedies”
Having refused to infer that a trust had been intended, their Lordships also refused to impose a ‘remedial constructive trust’ to achieve justice between the parties the event – “the company’s stock of bullion had no connection with Cs’ purchases, and to enable Cs to reach out and not only abstract it from the assets available to the body of creditors as a whole, but also to afford a priority over a secured creditor, would give them an adventitious benefit devoid of... foundation in logic and justice”
Privy council accepted – where specific goods are sold, the vendor may agree to retain physical possession on behalf of the purchaser after the sale had been completed – thereby effecting ‘constructing delivery and redelivery of possession, so as to transform the vendor into a bailee or pledge without the goods actually changing hands’ but on the facts of Re Goldcorp – goods were generic, not specific. It would have been otherwise if the gold bullion had been held in the form of ingots impressed or labelled with specific serial numbers, because then customers could have protected themselves by the simple expedient of purchasing ingots by number.
Soon after the Re Goldcorp decision – Parliament enacted Sale of Goods (Amendment) Act 1995 – “to amend the law relating to the sale of unascertained goods forming part of an identified bulk and the sale of undivided shares in goods”. Act = specifically concerned with contract of sale of goods – but its underlying purpose is to render subject matter certain that would otherwise be uncertain.
( follows: courts might look to the logic of the Act as an objective basis for establishing certainty of subject matter in trusts of the Re Goldcorp and Re London Winei variety. Act deals with contracts for sales of goods under which the goods are not identified individually, but are identified as parts of a homogeneous mass or ‘bulk’: EG - a contract to buy ’20 bottles of Krug 1979 from the 100 bottles now in your cellar” – subsection 1(3) of the Act inserts a new section into the Sales of Goods Act 1979.
Section provides that – unless parties otherwise agree, a contract for the sale of a specified quantity of unascertained goods in an identified bulk transfers in property in an undivided share of the bulk to the buyer, as long as the buyer has paid the price for some, or all, of the goods. Buyer therefore becomes a co owner of the bulk under a tenancy in common with the other co-oweners, her share being proportionate to the quanity of goods paid for and due to her. One consequence of the 1995 amendments is that, where (continuing example earlier) bottles of Krug 1979 have been removed from the cellar until there are only 20 left, it is possible, at that moment, why the same logic shouldn’t be applied in an appropriate case to validate a trust declared of assets within a homogeneous mass.
Gifts of residue Something can be conceptually certain even when it is evidentially unquantifiable: we all know what is meant by the concept ‘forever’ even though we cannot measure it. Another concept which may be practically unquantifiable, but is always conceptually certain – is ‘everything’.
If A leaves ‘everything’ to B when he dies, we know for certain that B is entitled to everything in A’s estate, even though it might be impracticable to quantify the exact contents of A’s estate. ( follows that a gift of residue of a deceased’s estate is certain, because a gift of ‘everything’ that remains after specific gifts have been made. So if I leave my car to my brother – my piano to my sister – and ‘everything else’ to my wife – the subject matter of the residue is certain and the gift to my wife will be valid.
Even appears that a valid trust can be declared of the residue (in the sense of ‘everything that remains’) of the assets of a settler while he is alive. in T Choithram International SA v Pagarani - the Privy Council upheld an inter vivos trust of the entire estate of a living settler. Mr Pagrani executed a trust deed on his deathbed in order to establish a foundation to be an umbrella organisation for a number of charities he had established during his life. Immediately after signing the deed – he stated that all of his wealth belonged henceforth to the foundation.
Perhaps the imminence of the settlor’s death persuaded the Privy Council that a fund which was at present uncertain would shortly be made certain. Valid gift of residue should be contrasted with gifts of the sort considered in Sprange v Banard – testatrix left a legacy to her husband ‘for his sole use’ but went on to provide that ‘at his death the remaining part of what is left that he doesn’t want for his own wants and use’ should go to X. X claimed to have an ascertainable interest in the legacy, and even requested that the court should impound the legacy and order an annual assessment of the sum wanted by the husband for his own use. Claim – rejected. Court held: residue of the legacy was, in practice, incapable of being ascertained, so the husband was subject to no trust.
3.3 Effect of failure of certainty of subject matter
• Gifts will fail for lack of certainty in subject matter • No trust created if subject matter is not specified – property remains with settlor or trustee • Where trust property certain but interests not:
– Resulting trust to settlor – or, if deceased, forms part of estate residue
Gifts will fail if there is lack of certainty of subject matter.
No trust is created if the property which is intended to be the subject of a trust is not specified with reasonable certainty. The property remains with the settlor or testator.
Where the trust property is certain, but each beneficiary’s share of it is not identifiable, the trust property will be held by the trustee(s) on resulting trust for the settlor or, where a resulting trust relates to a (now deceased) testator, the trust will take effect in favour of whoever is entitled to the residue of the deceased’s estate. Such resulting trusts are sometimes referred to as ‘automatic resulting trusts’, to distinguish them from the resulting trusts which arise from a contribution to purchase price, which will be familiar to you from Land Law.
4. Introduction to certainty of objects
The following notes are intended to give some guidance on the identification of different types of disposition, before moving on in the next Seminar to the detailed law on the tests for certainty of objects.
Problems associated with certainty of objects arise mainly in connection with dispositions in favour of a class of persons rather than in favour of named individuals, whether testamentary dispositions by will or inter vivos dispositions by deed.
The rules governing certainty of objects are complicated and require identification and consideration of the different types of disposition, as different tests for certainty of objects apply to each type of disposition: - Trusts: fixed and discretionary;
- Powers: fiduciary and personal; - Series of individual gifts subject to condition precedent
4.1. Trusts As already indicated, a disposition will create a trust if its wording is imperative and imposes on the trustee(s) an obligation to distribute the specified property.
4.1.1Fixed trusts Fixed trusts must meet the certainty of intention test, as well as the test for certainty of subject matter. A fixed trust will also direct or require the trustee(s) to distribute the trust property in a particular way. The settlor or testator must have specified exactly ‘who, what and when’ – the trustee(s) have no discretion about who will benefit; what share each is entitled to; and when this is to be distributed.
Examples: ‘I give £100,000 to Gregory to distribute equally between those who attended the Leeds Law Society Curry Night on 16th November 2011; ‘I give my shareholding in XYZ plc to my trustees to hold on trust, one-third for Martin and two-thirds for Millie’; ‘I leave £250,000 to Graham to hold on trust for Mary for life, remainder to be divided equally between my children absolutely’; ‘I leave £10,000 to Georgina, to hold on trust for my grandchildren equally’; ‘I give £20,000 to Gilbert on trust for Jim’.
4.1.2 Discretionary trusts Discretionary trusts must also meet the certainty of intention test, as well as the test for certainty of subject matter. A discretionary trust is created where the settlor or testator has given the trustee(s) discretion about one or more of the following: who the beneficiaries are; what each is entitled to; and when the property is to be distributed. Remember that even in a discretionary trust there must be an obligation to distribute all the trust property.
Examples: ‘I give £1 million to my trustees to distribute as they think fit amongst my former colleagues at the Theatre Royal’; ‘£100,000 to Geoffrey to distribute amongst bank managers who live in Chapel Allerton’; ‘I give my copyright in ‘The DaVinci Code’ to Gordon, to hold on trust for the benefit of aspiring fiction writers’.
4.2 Powers to appoint – fiduciary or personal Powers must also meet the certainty of intention and certainty of subject matter tests. Powers may be distinguished from trusts because, rather than imposing obligations on a trustee, the donor gives a power to appoint (the technical term meaning to distribute) property. The power will be personal if the donee of the power to appoint is a friend or family member of the settlor/testator, and fiduciary if the donee is a trustee or has been given the power because of his or her official position or profession.
The property may be appointed (distributed) among a specified class, but unlike a trust there is no duty to appoint all the property. Therefore there is often a ‘gift over’ clause in the disposition which specifies who will benefit if the property is not appointed, or not appointed in full. NB this is not to be confused with uncertainty of subject matter arising from a phrase such as ‘all that is left’.
Examples: ‘My solicitor is to have £10,000 to allocate as he thinks best amongst current law students at the University of Leeds, and anything left over by December 31st 2011 is to be spent on the purchase of law books for the Brotherton Library’; ‘I give £15,000 to Mr Golightly, the head ranger of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, to share amongst those who reach the top of Pen-y-ghent in 2012. Any money not spent in this way is to go to the National Park'; ‘I give Gulam £50,000 to appoint as he thinks fit to anyone passing the Equity and Trusts module in summer 2012, and in default of appointment to the Law Society’.
4.3 Series of individual gifts subject to condition precedent If specified sums of money (or other specific items of property) are given to objects on condition that they are members of the specified class, the disposition is a series of individual gifts subject to condition precedent. This type of disposition does not involve a transfer of property to anyone to act as trustee or donee of a power, and there is no specified fund of money (e.g. £100,000) or a finite number of objects (e.g. six cases of wine) from which the gifts are to be drawn, as there would be for a trust or a power. Anyone who meets the condition (i.e. comes within the class) must receive their gift.
Here, the subject matter of each gift is certain. It will not vary according to how many potential recipients meet the condition; each recipient is entitled to the same type of gift.
Examples: ‘My former work colleagues may each choose a book from my library’; ‘£100 to each of my nephews and nieces’. Questions
1. (a) Why must the three certainties be present in every valid express private trust?
Trusts can be onerous on trustees and confer a lot on the beneficiaries. Certainty is needed so know exactly what is on trust, who it is on trust for and that the settlor intended for his or her property to be used in such a way. Knight v Knight. There is an ‘infinite variety of expressions’ which are used and so need to be sure that courts are construing them with certainty that a trust has been wilfully created. Need to protect those who wish to transfer their property and also those who will receive the property. Protecting certainty of entitlement in property, ensuring the security of the transaction.
(b) What is meant by certainty of intention? How would you determine whether or not it exists?
Certainty of intention is to do with being certain that the settlor intended to create an express trust when dealing with dispositions of property. Duty of courts to ascertain this. Protects expressed intentions of donees and also transferees by ensuring they are only burdened with trust obligations for when it has been intended. Look at words used. It is a question of substance, no need for certain words ie “trust”, “confidence” etc.
BUT if the settlor omits to using the word ‘trust’: “he must do something which is equivalent to it, and use expressions which have that meaning for, however anxious the court may be to carry out a man’s intentions, it is not at liberty to construe words otherwise than according to their proper meaning” (Richards v Delbridge).
Cannot have precatory words of what you wish to be done. Ie “in fond hope”, “desire” etc
Also may look at conduct as well as in Paul v Constance – to ensure estranged wife didn’t get what was rightfully Mrs C’s. Informal dealings too.
(c) What is meant by certainty of subject matter?
Refers to the property that is being transferred. Need to be able to locate it. If difficulty in identifying the subject matter – may not be a trust ie ‘my special pair of cufflinks’ without further evidence. Bulk of property or property of homogeneous mass – no difficulty when dealing with the whole or certain percentage but may need to refine description say of 2 of a flock of sheep. Differences between choses in actions ie shares and chattels.
2.Adrian died six months ago, leaving a home-made will containing the following provisions: (a) “£500,000 to my wife Bella; anything that is left over on her death to be divided equally among our children”.
Certainty of intention is there. Certainty of subject matter is also there. Specified the amount. But ambiguity as to how much will be left over? Although does that matter - surplus is to be given to children in equal portions. From seminar:
Comiskey case. Imperative language Palmer v Simmons (?) Jones v Lock case – certainparts not sold – insufficiently certain, cannot determine what will be left over. No need for Bella to save any of the money. Is