Define: Breach Of Trust

Breach Of Trust
Breach Of Trust
Quick Summary of Breach Of Trust

Breach of trust refers to the violation of a duty or obligation owed to another party, resulting in harm or loss. It commonly arises in situations where one party, known as the trustee, is entrusted with managing assets or property for the benefit of another party, known as the beneficiary. A breach of trust occurs when the trustee fails to fulfil their duties, acts in a manner contrary to the terms of the trust, or misuses the entrusted assets for personal gain.

Examples of breach of trust may include misappropriating funds, failing to disclose conflicts of interest, or neglecting to properly manage and safeguard assets. The consequences of breach of trust can vary depending on the severity of the breach and the applicable laws. Remedies for breach of trust may include monetary damages, removal of the trustee from their position, or court-ordered corrective action to restore the rights and interests of the beneficiaries.

Breach of trust is a serious legal matter that can have significant implications for both the trustee and the beneficiaries involved. It is essential for trustees to act in good faith, exercise diligence, and adhere to their fiduciary duties to avoid breaching the trust and facing potential legal consequences.

What is the dictionary definition of Breach Of Trust?
Dictionary Definition of Breach Of Trust

A breach of trust occurs when a person in a position of trust, such as a trustee or fiduciary, fails to fulfil their duties and obligations to the beneficiary. This can include mismanagement of assets, self-dealing, or failure to act in the best interests of the beneficiary. Breach of trust is a serious legal matter and can result in civil liability and potentially criminal charges. It is important for individuals in positions of trust to act with honesty and integrity in order to avoid breaching their fiduciary duties.

n. 1) any act which is in violation of the duties of a trustee or of the terms of a trust. Such a breach need not be intentional or caused by malice but can be due to negligence. 2) breaking a promise or confidence.

Full Definition Of Breach Of Trust

Breach of trust is a significant concept in English law, particularly within the context of fiduciary relationships and the administration of trusts. It occurs when a trustee fails to fulfill their obligations or acts contrary to the terms and duties imposed by the trust instrument or the law. This legal overview aims to provide an in-depth examination of breach of trust, its legal framework, implications, and relevant case law.

Definition and Nature of a Trust

A trust is a fiduciary relationship in which one party, known as the trustee, holds and manages property or assets for the benefit of another party, called the beneficiary. The trust is created through a trust deed, which outlines the terms and conditions under which the trustee must operate. The essence of a trust lies in the separation of legal ownership (held by the trustee) and beneficial ownership (enjoyed by the beneficiary).

Duties of a Trustee

Trustees are bound by several fundamental duties, including:

  • Duty of Loyalty: Trustees must act solely in the interests of the beneficiaries, avoiding conflicts of interest and self-dealing.
  • Duty to Act Prudently: Trustees are required to manage the trust property with the care, skill, and diligence that a reasonably prudent person would exercise in similar circumstances.
  • Duty of Impartiality: Trustees must act impartially between beneficiaries, ensuring that no beneficiary is unduly favoured over another.
  • Duty to Account and Inform: Trustees must keep accurate records of trust property and transactions and provide beneficiaries with relevant information regarding the trust.
  • Duty to Adhere to the Terms of the Trust: Trustees are obligated to follow the terms set out in the trust deed.

Breach of Trust: Definition and Examples

A breach of trust occurs when a trustee violates any of their duties or the terms of the trust. Examples of breach of trust include:

  • Misappropriation of Trust Funds: When a trustee uses trust assets for their own benefit or for purposes not authorised by the trust deed.
  • Negligent Investment: When a trustee invests trust funds imprudently, leading to financial loss.
  • Failure to Distribute Trust Assets: When a trustee fails to distribute the trust assets to beneficiaries in accordance with the trust deed.
  • Conflict of Interest: When a trustee engages in transactions that benefit themselves at the expense of the beneficiaries.

Legal Consequences of Breach of Trust

The consequences of a breach of trust can be severe for the trustee. They may be held personally liable to restore the trust to the position it would have been in had the breach not occurred. This can include compensating the trust for any loss or returning any profit made from the breach. Specific legal remedies available to beneficiaries include:

  • Restoration: The trustee may be required to restore the trust property or its equivalent value.
  • Account of Profits: The trustee may have to account for and hand over any profits made as a result of the breach.
  • Injunction: A court order preventing the trustee from committing further breaches.
  • Removal of Trustee: The court may remove a trustee who has committed a breach of trust and appoint a replacement.

Defences to Breach of Trust

Trustees may raise several defences against claims of breach of trust, including:

  • Consent of the Beneficiaries: If all beneficiaries, being fully informed and competent, consent to the trustee’s actions, this may serve as a defence.
  • Relief under Section 61 of the Trustee Act 1925: The court has the discretion to relieve a trustee from liability if they have acted honestly and reasonably and ought fairly to be excused for the breach.
  • Exemption Clauses: Trust deeds may contain exemption clauses that limit or exclude the trustee’s liability for certain breaches, although these are strictly construed and cannot absolve liability for fraud or wilful misconduct.

Case Law on Breach of Trust

Several landmark cases illustrate the principles and consequences of breach of trust:

  • Keech v Sandford (1726): This early case established the principle that trustees must avoid conflicts of interest. The trustee in this case renewed a lease for his own benefit after the lessor refused to renew it for the trust. The court held that the trustee was accountable for the profit derived from the lease.
  • Speight v Gaunt (1883): This case highlighted the duty of trustees to act prudently. A trustee delegated the investment of trust funds to a broker, who subsequently absconded with the funds. The court found that the trustee had not breached his duty as he had acted with the same prudence as an ordinary person managing their own affairs.
  • Boardman v. Phipps (1967): This case reinforced the strict approach to conflicts of interest. The trustee and a solicitor, acting for the trust, made a profit from the purchase of shares in a company where the trust already held shares. The House of Lords held that they were accountable for the profits as they had acted in a fiduciary capacity.
  • Target Holdings Ltd. v. Redferns (1996): This case concerned the issue of causation and loss in breach of trust. A solicitor, acting as a trustee, released mortgage funds prematurely, which led to a loss. The House of Lords ruled that the trustee was only liable for losses directly caused by the breach.
  • Armitage v. Nurse (1998): This case addressed the enforceability of exemption clauses in trust deeds. The court held that such clauses could exclude liability for negligence but not for fraud or willful misconduct.

Statutory Framework

The statutory framework governing breaches of trust includes several key pieces of legislation:

  • Trustee Act 1925: Provides general principles and duties of trustees, including powers of investment and delegation.
  • Trustee Act 2000: Introduced a statutory duty of care for trustees and modernised the rules on trustee powers and delegation.
  • The Charities Act 2011 contains specific provisions relating to the duties and liabilities of trustees of charitable trusts.

Remedies and Enforcement

Beneficiaries have several avenues for seeking remedies in cases of breach of trust:

  • Equitable Remedies: Beneficiaries can apply to the court for equitable remedies such as restitution, compensation, or injunctions.
  • Personal and Proprietary Claims: Beneficiaries can bring personal claims against trustees for compensation or seek proprietary remedies to recover misappropriated assets.
  • Tracing: This equitable remedy allows beneficiaries to trace and recover trust property that has been wrongfully disposed of or converted.


Breach of trust is a critical concept in trust law, reflecting the fiduciary nature of the trustee-beneficiary relationship. Trustees are bound by stringent duties to act in the best interests of the beneficiaries, and breaches of these duties can lead to significant legal consequences. The legal framework, case law, and statutory provisions together ensure that trustees are held accountable for their actions, thereby protecting the integrity of trusts and the rights of beneficiaries.

In conclusion, understanding breach of trust is essential for trustees to discharge their duties properly and for beneficiaries to protect their interests. The principles of trust law, rooted in equity, continue to evolve, balancing the need for trustee accountability with the practicalities of trust administration.

Breach Of Trust FAQ'S

Breach of trust refers to a situation where a person entrusted with the responsibility of managing someone else’s property or assets violates that trust by misusing or misappropriating the assets for their own benefit.

Some Examples of breach of trust include embezzlement, fraud, theft, the misappropriation of funds, the unauthorised use of property, and a failure to fulfil fiduciary duties.

Breach of trust involves a violation of the fiduciary duty or responsibility owed to another person, while breach of contract refers to the failure to fulfil the terms and conditions of a legally binding agreement.

The legal consequences of breach of trust can vary depending on the jurisdiction and the severity of the breach. They may include civil liability, criminal charges, fines, restitution, and potential imprisonment.

Yes, breach of trust can be considered a criminal offence in many jurisdictions. It may be prosecuted as theft, fraud, or embezzlement, depending on the specific circumstances of the case.

The statute of limitations for filing a claim for breach of trust can vary depending on the jurisdiction and the nature of the breach. It is advisable to consult with a legal professional to determine the applicable time limits in your specific case.

Yes, breach of trust can occur in both personal and professional relationships. It can involve family members, friends, business partners, employees, or anyone who has been entrusted with the responsibility of managing someone else’s assets or property.

Yes, breach of trust disputes can be resolved through mediation or alternative dispute resolution methods if both parties agree to participate. These methods can help facilitate a mutually acceptable resolution without the need for a court trial.

Yes, a breach of trust can lead to a civil lawsuit where the aggrieved party seeks compensation for the damages suffered as a result of the breach. The lawsuit may seek monetary damages, return of misappropriated assets, or other appropriate remedies.

To protect yourself from potential breach of trust, it is important to carefully choose and trust the individuals or entities you entrust with your assets or property. Additionally, having clear written agreements, conducting regular audits, and seeking legal advice can help mitigate the risk of breach of trust.

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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: 7th June 2024.

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