Estate Trusts

Estate Trusts
Estate Trusts
Full Overview Of Estate Trusts

Estate trusts are a crucial part of modern estate planning, providing a structured way to manage and safeguard assets. They ensure that assets are distributed according to the grantor’s wishes while also offering potential tax benefits and financial security for beneficiaries.

At DLS Solicitors, we understand the significance of comprehensive estate planning and are dedicated to helping our clients navigate the complexities of establishing and managing trusts. This overview will discuss the different types of estate trusts, their benefits, and important considerations for setting up and administering them.

What is an Estate Trust?

An estate trust is a fiduciary arrangement in which a trustee holds and manages assets on behalf of beneficiaries according to the terms set out by the grantor (the person who establishes the trust). The primary purpose of an estate trust is to control and protect assets, ensuring their appropriate distribution to beneficiaries. Trusts can be tailored to meet specific needs and objectives, providing flexibility in estate planning.

Types of Estate Trusts

There are several types of estate trusts, each serving different purposes and offering unique benefits. Below, we outline the most common types:

Revocable Living Trusts

A revocable living trust is one that the grantor can modify or revoke during their lifetime. It allows the grantor to retain control over the assets and make changes as needed. The trust becomes irrevocable upon the grantor’s death, and the assets are distributed according to the trust’s terms.


  • Avoidance of Probate: Assets in a revocable living trust are not subject to probate, ensuring a faster and more private distribution process.
  • Flexibility: The grantor can modify or revoke the trust at any time.
  • Continuity of Management: In the event of the grantor’s incapacity, a successor trustee can manage the trust without court intervention.

Irrevocable Trusts

An irrevocable trust cannot be altered or revoked once it is established, except under specific circumstances or with the consent of the beneficiaries. This type of trust is often used for tax planning and asset protection.


  • Tax Benefits: Assets transferred to an irrevocable trust are typically removed from the grantor’s taxable estate, potentially reducing estate taxes.
  • Asset Protection: Assets in an irrevocable trust are generally protected from creditors.
  • Income Shifting: Income generated by trust assets can be distributed to beneficiaries, potentially lowering the grantor’s taxable income.

Testamentary Trusts

A testamentary trust is created through a will and takes effect upon the grantor’s death. It is commonly used to manage assets for minor children or beneficiaries who are not yet capable of managing their inheritance.


  • Control over Distribution: The grantor can specify when and how beneficiaries receive their inheritance.
  • Protection for Minors: Assets can be managed until beneficiaries reach a specified age or milestone.
  • Potential Tax Savings: Testamentary trusts can include tax-planning provisions to minimise estate and inheritance taxes.

Special Needs Trusts

A special needs trust is designed to provide for the care and support of a beneficiary with special needs without disqualifying them from receiving government benefits such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid.


  • Preservation of Benefits: Assets in a special needs trust do not count towards the beneficiary’s asset limits for government benefits.
  • Enhanced Quality of Life: The trust can provide for expenses not covered by government benefits, such as medical care, education, and recreational activities.
  • Protection and Management: Professional trustees can manage the trust assets, ensuring they are used appropriately for the beneficiary’s needs.

Charitable Trusts

A charitable trust allows the grantor to donate assets to a charitable organisation while receiving potential tax benefits. There are two main types of charitable trusts: charitable remainder trusts (CRTs) and charitable lead trusts (CLTs).


  • Tax Advantages: Contributions to charitable trusts may qualify for income, estate, and gift tax deductions.
  • Income Generation: CRTs can provide income to the grantor or other beneficiaries for a specified period before the remaining assets are donated to charity.
  • Philanthropic Goals: Charitable trusts enable the grantor to support charitable causes and leave a lasting legacy.

Setting Up an Estate Trust

Establishing an estate trust requires careful planning and consideration of various factors to ensure it meets the grantor’s objectives. The process typically involves the following steps:

Define Objectives

The first step in setting up an estate trust is to define the grantor’s objectives clearly. This includes determining the trust’s purpose, identifying beneficiaries, and specifying how and when assets should be distributed. Objectives may include providing for family members, minimising taxes, protecting assets, and supporting charitable causes.

Choose the Type of Trust

The next step is to choose the appropriate type of trust based on the grantor’s objectives. Each type of trust has its benefits and limitations, and the choice will depend on factors such as the need for flexibility, tax considerations, and the grantor’s control over the assets.

Select a Trustee

Selecting a trustee is a crucial decision, as the trustee will manage the trust’s assets and ensure they are distributed according to the trust’s terms. The grantor can choose an individual, such as a family member or friend, or a professional trustee, such as a bank or trust company. It is important to select a trustee who is trustworthy, competent, and capable of fulfilling their fiduciary duties.

Draft the Trust Document

The trust document is a legal instrument that sets out the terms and conditions of the trust. An experienced solicitor should draft it to ensure it complies with relevant laws and accurately reflects the grantor’s wishes. The trust document typically includes:

  • Identification of the grantor, trustee, and beneficiaries
  • Description of the trust assets
  • Terms for asset distribution
  • Provisions for trustee powers and responsibilities
  • Conditions for modifying or terminating the trust

Fund the Trust

Funding the trust involves transferring ownership of assets to the trust. These can include cash, real estate, investments, and other valuable assets. Properly titling the assets in the trust’s name ensures they are legally part of the trust and managed according to its terms.

Obtain Legal and Tax Advice

Given the complexities involved in setting up and managing an estate trust, seeking legal and tax advice is advisable. A solicitor can provide guidance on the legal aspects of the trust, while a tax advisor can offer insights on potential tax implications and strategies to minimise taxes.

Administering an Estate Trust

Once the trust is established, it must be administered in accordance with its terms and relevant laws. Effective trust administration involves several key responsibilities:

Asset Management

The trustee is responsible for managing the trust assets prudently and in the best interests of the beneficiaries. This includes investing assets, maintaining records, and ensuring the assets are used according to the trust’s terms. The trustee must exercise due diligence and adhere to the “prudent investor rule,” which requires managing the assets as a prudent investor would.

Distribution of Assets

The trustee must distribute trust assets to beneficiaries as specified in the trust document. This may involve making regular payments, distributing lump sums, or providing for specific needs. The trustee must ensure distributions are made in a timely and accurate manner, taking into account any conditions or restrictions outlined in the trust.

Reporting and Record-Keeping

Trustees are required to maintain accurate records of all transactions, including receipts, disbursements, and investments. They must also provide periodic reports to beneficiaries, detailing the trust’s financial status and activities. Good record-keeping is essential for transparency and accountability.

Tax Compliance

Trusts are subject to various tax laws and reporting requirements. The trustee must ensure the trust complies with all relevant tax obligations, including filing tax returns and paying any taxes due. Failure to comply with tax laws can result in penalties and jeopardise the trust’s assets.

Communication with Beneficiaries

Effective communication with beneficiaries is crucial for successful trust administration. The trustee should keep beneficiaries informed about the trust’s activities, address any concerns, and provide regular updates. Clear communication helps build trust and ensures beneficiaries understand their rights and the trustee’s responsibilities.

Resolving Disputes

Disputes can arise during the administration of a trust, often related to the interpretation of the trust document, asset distribution, or trustee actions. It is important to address disputes promptly and fairly, seeking legal advice if necessary.

Mediation or arbitration can effectively resolve conflicts without resorting to litigation.

Common Challenges and Considerations

Administering an estate trust can present various challenges and considerations. Understanding these can help trustees navigate potential issues and ensure the trust operates smoothly.

Trustee Selection and Succession

Choosing the right trustee and planning for trustee succession are critical decisions. A trustee who is not competent or trustworthy can jeopardise the trust’s assets and objectives. To ensure continuity in trust management, it is advisable to include provisions in the trust document for appointing successor trustees.

Compliance with Fiduciary Duties

Trustees have fiduciary duties to act in the best interests of the beneficiaries and manage the trust assets prudently. Failure to comply with these duties can result in legal liability. Trustees should seek professional advice and training to understand their responsibilities and ensure they act in accordance with the law.

Balancing Beneficiary Interests

Trustees may face challenges in balancing the interests of different beneficiaries, especially if there are conflicting needs or expectations. Open communication, transparency, and fairness are essential in managing beneficiary relationships and avoiding disputes.

Managing Complex Assets

Trusts may include complex assets such as real estate, businesses, or investments. Managing these assets requires specialised knowledge and expertise. Trustees should seek professional assistance if needed to ensure the assets are managed effectively.

Addressing Changing Circumstances

Circumstances can change over time, affecting the trust’s administration and objectives. The trustee must be adaptable and responsive to changes, such as shifts in financial markets, changes in beneficiaries’ needs, or amendments to tax laws. Flexibility and proactive planning are key to addressing these changes effectively.


Estate trusts are powerful tools for managing and protecting assets. They ensure that assets are distributed according to the grantor’s wishes and provide financial security for beneficiaries. At DLS Solicitors, we understand the importance of thorough estate planning and are dedicated to helping our clients navigate the complexities of establishing and administering trusts. We help our clients understand the various types of trusts, their benefits, and the key considerations involved so that they can make informed decisions that align with their goals and provide lasting peace of mind.

Effective trust administration requires careful planning, diligent management, and adherence to legal and fiduciary duties. Working with experienced professionals can help trustees ensure they fulfil their responsibilities and uphold the trust’s objectives. This safeguards the interests of the beneficiaries and honours the grantor’s legacy.

Estate Trusts FAQ'S

An estate trust is a legal arrangement in which a trustee holds and manages assets for the benefit of beneficiaries according to the terms set out in a trust deed. It is often used in estate planning to ensure assets are managed and distributed according to the grantor’s wishes after their death.

Setting up an estate trust can provide several benefits, including reducing inheritance tax, protecting assets from creditors, ensuring privacy in asset distribution, and managing assets for beneficiaries who may not be able to manage them themselves, such as minors or those with disabilities.

There are several types of estate trusts, including:

  • Living Trusts (Inter Vivos Trusts): Created during the grantor’s lifetime.
  • Testamentary Trusts: Created by a will and takes effect after the grantor’s death.
  • Discretionary Trusts: Trustees have discretion over how the trust’s income and capital are distributed.
  • Bare Trusts: Beneficiaries have an immediate and absolute right to the trust’s capital and income.
  • Interest in Possession Trusts: Beneficiaries have the right to the trust’s income but not necessarily the capital.

To set up an estate trust in the UK, you need to:

  • Determine the type of trust you need.
  • Create a trust deed outlining the terms of the trust.
  • Appoint trustees to manage the trust.
  • Transfer assets into the trust.
  • Register the trust with HMRC if necessary.

A trustee is responsible for managing the trust’s assets according to the terms set out in the trust deed. This includes investing assets, distributing income or capital to beneficiaries, keeping accurate records, and complying with tax obligations.

Yes, you can be a trustee of your own estate trust. However, it is advisable to appoint at least one other trustee to ensure impartiality and to assist with the management of the trust.

Estate trusts can be subject to several taxes, including:

  • Inheritance Tax: Applies to the value of the trust when the trust is set up, when assets are added, and when certain events occur.
  • Income Tax: On income generated by the trust’s assets.
  • Capital Gains Tax: On any gains made when trust assets are sold or transferred.

Yes, certain types of trusts can help in reducing inheritance tax liability. For example, discretionary trusts and bare trusts can be structured to minimise inheritance tax, but professional advice is recommended to ensure compliance with HMRC regulations.

When the grantor of a living trust dies, the trust generally becomes irrevocable, meaning it cannot be changed or terminated. The trustees will manage and distribute the assets according to the terms of the trust deed.

Yes, a trust can be contested in the UK, typically on grounds such as the grantor’s mental capacity at the time of creating the trust, undue influence, or the validity of the trust deed. Beneficiaries or other interested parties can challenge the trust in court.


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: 17th July 2024.

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Our team of professionals are based in Alderley Edge, Cheshire. We offer clear, specialist legal advice in all matters relating to Family Law, Wills, Trusts, Probate, Lasting Power of Attorney and Court of Protection.

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