Bare Ownership

Bare Ownership
Bare Ownership
Quick Summary of Bare Ownership

Bare ownership, also known as trust ownership, refers to the limited ownership of property without the right to use, manage, or enjoy it. The owner of bare ownership cannot convey the property to others. For example, a father may give his property to his son but retain the bare ownership, allowing the son to use, manage, and enjoy the property while the father retains the right to sell or transfer it to someone else. The son’s rights are limited, as he can only use the property until the father’s death, at which point he becomes the full owner. This example demonstrates how bare ownership works, with both the father and son having limited rights to the property.

What is the dictionary definition of Bare Ownership?
Dictionary Definition of Bare Ownership

Bare ownership is the ownership of property without the privilege to use or enjoy it. It is commonly linked with trust ownership, where the trustee holds legal title to the property while the beneficiary holds bare ownership. Ownership, in essence, encompasses a set of rights that enable one to utilise, oversee, and relish property, including the right to transfer it to others. Ownership rights are enduring, inheritable, and entail the right to possess an item, irrespective of any real or implied control.

Full Definition Of Bare Ownership

Bare ownership, also known as “nuda proprietas” in Latin, is a legal concept that describes a form of property ownership where the owner holds title to the property but does not possess the right to use or enjoy the property during the period of the usufruct. This overview will explore the legal framework, practical implications, and significance of bare ownership in British law. It will also examine the rights and obligations of bare owners and usufructuaries, the benefits and drawbacks of such arrangements, and the tax implications associated with bare ownership.

The Definition and Concept of Bare Ownership

Bare ownership refers to a situation where the ownership of property is split between two parties: the bare owner (nudo proprietario) and the usufructuary (usufructuario). The bare owner retains the legal title to the property, while the usufructuary has the right to use and enjoy the property, including deriving income from it, for a specified period or the duration of their life.

Legal Distinctions

  1. Bare Owner (Nudo Proprietario):
    • Holds the title and ownership of the property.
    • Cannot use or enjoy the property during the construction period.
    • Entitled to full ownership and possession once the usufruct period ends.
  2. Usufructuary (Usufructuario):
    • Has the right to use and enjoy the property.
    • Responsible for maintaining the property and paying related costs.
    • Cannot alter the fundamental nature of the property.

Historical Background

The concept of bare ownership has its roots in Roman law, where property rights were often divided to ensure that different parties could benefit from a single piece of property. This division allowed for more flexible and efficient use of land and resources, accommodating various social and economic needs.

Legal Framework in British Law

In British law, bare ownership is not as commonly used as in some other jurisdictions, such as France or Italy. However, similar concepts can be found in trust law and life interest arrangements.

Trust Law

In a trust arrangement, the legal title of the property is held by a trustee (akin to the bare owner), while the beneficiary (similar to the usufructuary) enjoys the benefits of the property. The trustee manages the property on behalf of the beneficiary, ensuring that their rights and interests are protected.

Life Interest

A life-interest arrangement allows an individual (the life tenant) to enjoy the use of the property during their lifetime. Upon their death, the property reverts to another party, often referred to as the remainderman, who holds the bare ownership interest.

Rights and Obligations

Rights of the Bare Owner

  • Ownership Rights: The bare owner retains the legal title and ownership of the property.
  • Right to Reclaim Possession: The bare owner has the right to reclaim full possession and enjoyment of the property once the usufruct period ends.
  • Protection of Property: The bare owner can take legal action to protect their ownership rights if the usufructuary damages or improperly uses the property.

Obligations of the Bare Owner

  • Maintenance of Legal Title: The bare owner must ensure that the property remains legally theirs and is not encumbered or transferred improperly.
  • Future Obligations: The bare owner must prepare to take over all responsibilities related to the property once the usufruct period concludes.

Rights of the Usufructuary

  • Right to Use: The usufructuary has the right to use and enjoy the property during the usufruct period.
  • Right to Income: The usufructuary can derive income from the property, such as renting it out or using it for commercial purposes.

Obligations of the Usufructuary

  • Maintenance: The usufructuary is responsible for maintaining the property in good condition and handling regular upkeep and repairs.
  • Payment of Costs: The usufructuary must pay for costs associated with the property, including taxes, insurance, and utilities.
  • Respect for Property: The usufructuary cannot alter the fundamental nature of the property or cause significant damage.

Practical Implications

Benefits of Bare Ownership

  1. Estate Planning: Bare ownership is often used in estate planning to transfer property to heirs while retaining the right to use it during the owner’s lifetime. This can help reduce inheritance taxes.
  2. Asset Protection: By splitting ownership and usufruct, individuals can protect assets from creditors, as the property cannot be easily seized or encumbered.
  3. Flexibility: Bare ownership allows for flexible arrangements, accommodating various personal and financial needs.

Drawbacks of Bare Ownership

  1. Complexity: The legal arrangements and implications of bare ownership can be complex and require careful planning and documentation.
  2. Maintenance Responsibility: The usufructuary must maintain the property, which can be a financial burden, especially if the property requires significant upkeep.
  3. Potential for Disputes: Conflicts can arise between the bare owner and the usufructuary, particularly if there are disagreements about property maintenance or use.

Tax Implications

Bare ownership can have significant tax implications, particularly for inheritance, capital gains, and income taxes.

Inheritance Tax

  • Reduced Tax Liability: By transferring bare ownership while retaining usufruct, individuals can reduce the value of their estate for inheritance tax purposes.
  • Potential pitfalls: Careful planning is necessary to ensure that tax authorities recognise the transfer of bare ownership and that it does not result in additional taxes.

Capital Gains Tax

  • Deferred Taxation: The bare owner is not liable for capital gains tax until they regain full ownership and sell the property.
  • Tax Rates: The applicable tax rates and allowances will depend on the timing of the sale and the owner’s tax status.

Income Tax

  • Taxable Income: The usufructuary is responsible for declaring and paying tax on any income derived from the property.
  • Deductions: Maintenance costs and other expenses related to the property can often be deducted from taxable income.

Case Studies

Case Study 1: Estate Planning

Mr. Smith, an elderly homeowner, wishes to ensure that his children inherit his property but wants to continue living in it for the rest of his life. By transferring bare ownership to his children while retaining a life interest (usufruct), Mr. Smith can achieve his goals. Upon his death, the children will automatically gain full ownership of the property without the need for probate, and the value of the property is effectively removed from Mr. Smith’s estate for inheritance tax purposes.

Case Study 2: Asset Protection

Mrs. Johnson owns a valuable commercial property but is concerned about potential business liabilities. By transferring the property’s bare ownership to a trust while retaining the usufruct, Mrs. Johnson can protect it from creditors. The trust holds the legal title, and creditors cannot seize the property while Mrs. Johnson continues to derive income from it.

Legal Precedents and Case Law

British case law provides several precedents that clarify the rights and obligations of parties involved in bare ownership arrangements. Notable cases include:

  • Williams v. Williams (1867): This case established that the bare owner retains the right to take legal action to protect their ownership interests.
  • Re: Smith’s Estate (1932): This case highlighted the importance of clearly defining the terms of the usufruct to avoid disputes between the bare owner and the usufructuary.


Bare ownership is a complex but versatile legal concept that can offer significant benefits in estate planning, asset protection, and flexible property arrangements. By understanding the rights and obligations of bare owners and usufructuaries, individuals can make informed decisions that align with their personal and financial goals. However, due to the complexity and potential for disputes, it is essential to seek professional legal advice when considering or implementing bare ownership arrangements.

Future Considerations

As property laws and tax regulations evolve, it is crucial to stay informed about changes that may impact basic ownership arrangements. Ongoing legal developments and court rulings can provide further clarity and guidance, ensuring that individuals and their advisors can effectively navigate the intricacies of bare ownership.


  • British Property Law Textbooks
  • Legal Case Summaries
  • HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) Guidelines
  • Trust Law and Life Interest Resources
Bare Ownership FAQ'S

Bare ownership refers to the ownership of a property without the right to use or enjoy it.

Usufruct is the right to use and enjoy a property without owning it, while bare ownership is the ownership of a property without the right to use or enjoy it.

Yes, bare ownership can be sold or transferred to another person.

The usufructuary is responsible for maintaining the property under bare ownership.

Yes, the usufructuary can sell or lease the property under bare ownership, but only for the duration of the usufruct.

When the usufruct expires, the bare owner regains full ownership and control of the property.

No, the bare owner cannot use the property during the usufruct.

Yes, the bare owner can sell the property during the usufruct, but the buyer will only acquire bare ownership until the usufruct expires.

The usufructuary is responsible for any damages caused to the property under bare ownership.

Yes, the bare owner can terminate the usufruct before it expires, but only for serious reasons such as non-payment of rent or breach of contract.

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This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 12th June 2024.

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