Non-Discretionary Trusts

Non-Discretionary Trusts
Non-Discretionary Trusts
Full Overview Of Non-Discretionary Trusts

Trusts are invaluable instruments in estate planning and wealth management. They provide mechanisms for managing and distributing assets, offering benefits such as tax efficiency, asset protection, and the ability to cater to beneficiaries’ specific needs. Among the various types of trusts, non-discretionary trusts hold a unique position, characterised by their specific and predetermined instructions for asset management and distribution. This guide provides a detailed overview of non-discretionary trusts, exploring their structure, advantages, limitations, and practical considerations.

Trusts: A Brief Background

A trust is a legal arrangement wherein a settlor transfers assets to a trustee, who then holds and manages these assets for the benefit of the beneficiaries. Trusts can be broadly classified into two categories: discretionary and non-discretionary. The distinction between the two lies in the level of discretion granted to the trustee.

In a discretionary trust, the trustee has the authority to decide how and when to distribute the trust’s income or assets among the beneficiaries. Conversely, in a non-discretionary trust, the trustee’s actions are guided by specific instructions outlined in the trust deed, leaving little to no room for personal discretion.

Key Features of Non-Discretionary Trusts

  • Defined Instructions: The hallmark of a non-discretionary trust is the explicit and detailed instructions regarding the distribution of the trust’s assets and income. These instructions are laid out by the settlor in the trust deed, ensuring that the trustee adheres strictly to the settlor’s wishes.
  • Predictability and Certainty: Because the terms of the trust are clearly defined, beneficiaries can have a higher degree of certainty regarding their entitlements. This predictability can be particularly beneficial in family planning and financial forecasting.
  • Limited Trustee Discretion: Unlike discretionary trusts, where trustees can exercise judgement in the best interests of the beneficiaries, non-discretionary trusts limit the trustee’s role to executing the settlor’s instructions. This can reduce potential conflicts and ensure that the settlor’s intentions are honoured without deviation.
  • Tailored to Specific Needs: Non-discretionary trusts can be crafted to address particular needs or circumstances, such as providing for a child’s education, ensuring care for a dependent with special needs, or managing assets for beneficiaries who may lack financial acumen.

Types of Non-Discretionary Trusts

Non-discretionary trusts can take several forms, each suited to different purposes and situations. Some common types include:

  1. Fixed Trusts: In a fixed trust, the beneficiaries and their respective shares are predetermined. For instance, a trust might specify that each of the three beneficiaries receives one-third of the trust’s income annually.
  2. Life Interest Trusts: These trusts provide income or use of an asset (such as property) to a primary beneficiary for their lifetime. Upon their death, the assets pass to the remainderman beneficiaries as specified in the trust deed.
  3. Bare Trusts: Also known as simple trusts, bare trusts are those where the beneficiary has an absolute right to both the capital and income of the trust, and the trustee’s role is merely to manage the assets until the beneficiary demands them.

Advantages of Non-Discretionary Trusts

  1. Clarity and Control: One of the primary advantages of non-discretionary trusts is the level of control they offer to the settlor. By detailing specific instructions, the settlor ensures that their exact wishes are carried out, which can be particularly important in complex family dynamics or when managing substantial assets.
  2. Reduced Potential for Disputes: With clearly defined terms, there is less room for interpretation or dispute among beneficiaries. This can lead to smoother administration and fewer legal challenges, preserving family harmony and reducing legal costs.
  3. Beneficiary Security: Beneficiaries can have peace of mind knowing their entitlements are secured and not subject to the varying discretion of a trustee. This security is especially important for vulnerable beneficiaries, such as minors or individuals with disabilities.
  4. Tax Planning: Non-discretionary trusts can be structured to optimise tax efficiency, potentially reducing inheritance tax liabilities and taking advantage of other tax planning opportunities.

Limitations and Challenges

  1. Lack of Flexibility: The rigidity of non-discretionary trusts can be a drawback in certain situations. Since the terms are fixed, it can be challenging to adapt to changing circumstances, such as a beneficiary’s altered financial needs or unexpected economic conditions.
  2. Complexity in Drafting: Creating a non-discretionary trust requires meticulous planning and precise legal drafting to ensure all instructions are clear and enforceable. This complexity necessitates professional expertise, often making the process more time-consuming and costly.
  3. Administrative Burden: Trustees of non-discretionary trusts must adhere strictly to the trust’s terms, which can be administratively burdensome. Detailed record-keeping and regular reporting are essential to demonstrate compliance with the trust deed.
  4. Potential for Inefficiency: In cases where the needs of beneficiaries evolve over time, the fixed nature of non-discretionary trusts may result in inefficiencies or inequitable distributions. This inflexibility can sometimes lead to outcomes that are not in the best interests of the beneficiaries as circumstances change.

Practical Considerations for Setting Up a Non-Discretionary Trust

  • Clear Objectives: Define the specific objectives of the trust. Whether it is to provide for education, medical care, or maintenance of a property, having a clear purpose will guide the drafting of the trust deed.
  • Professional Advice: Engaging legal and financial professionals is crucial. A solicitor with expertise in trusts can ensure the trust deed is comprehensive and legally sound, while financial advisors can provide insights into tax implications and asset management.
  • Selection of Trustees: Choose trustees who are reliable, competent, and understand their fiduciary duties. It is also prudent to consider appointing a professional trustee to manage complex trusts or when family dynamics are particularly sensitive.
  • Detailed Instructions: Ensure the trust deed includes explicit instructions regarding the distribution of assets and income, the roles and responsibilities of trustees, and provisions for unforeseen circumstances.
  • Regular Review: Although non-discretionary trusts are inherently rigid, it is wise to periodically review the trust’s performance and the continuing relevance of its terms. This can help identify any potential need for amendments, although such changes are typically limited and must align with the original intent of the settlor.

Case Studies

Case Study 1: Providing for Minors

Mr. and Mrs. Smith, concerned about the future welfare of their young children, set up a non-discretionary trust. The trust deed specifies that the trustees are to use the trust income for the children’s education and general maintenance until they reach the age of 25, at which point the capital is to be equally distributed among them. This arrangement ensures that the children’s financial needs are met consistently and predictably, providing Mr. and Mrs. Smith with peace of mind.

Case Study 2: Supporting a Dependent with Special Needs

Mrs. Johnson established a non-discretionary trust to provide lifelong support for her adult son, who has a disability. The trust deed directs the trustees to use the trust income to cover all medical expenses, therapy, and general living costs. Upon her son’s passing, the remaining trust assets are to be distributed to a designated charity. This structure ensures that her son’s needs are met without disruption, and the remaining assets are used for philanthropic purposes dear to Mrs. Johnson’s heart.

Case Study 3: Managing Business Succession

Mr. Lee, a successful entrepreneur, wants to ensure the smooth succession of his family business. He sets up a non-discretionary trust to hold his shares in the company. The trust deed specifies that the income generated from the shares is to be distributed among his children, but the control and voting rights remain with a professional trustee until his youngest child reaches 30. This arrangement provides financial benefits to his children while ensuring professional management of the business during their formative years.


Non-discretionary trusts offer a powerful tool for individuals seeking to manage and distribute their assets with precision and clarity. While they provide significant advantages in terms of control and predictability, they also come with inherent limitations regarding flexibility and administrative burden. By carefully considering the objectives, engaging professional advisors, and crafting detailed trust deeds, settlors can effectively use non-discretionary trusts to achieve their estate planning goals.

At DLS Solicitors, we understand the intricate dynamics of trust law and are committed to guiding our clients through the complexities of setting up non-discretionary trusts. Whether you are planning for your children’s future, ensuring the care of a dependent, or managing business succession, our team of experienced professionals is here to provide tailored advice and support. Contact us today to learn how we can assist you in securing your legacy and providing for your loved ones.

Non-Discretionary Trusts FAQ'S

A non-discretionary trust, also known as a fixed or bare trust, is a type of trust where the beneficiaries and their entitlements are clearly defined by the settlor (the person who creates the trust). The trustees have no discretion in how the trust assets are distributed; they must follow the terms set out in the trust deed.

In a non-discretionary trust, the beneficiaries and their share of the trust assets are fixed and predetermined. In a discretionary trust, the trustees have the flexibility to decide which beneficiaries receive the trust assets and in what proportions, based on the criteria set by the settlor.

The beneficiaries of a non-discretionary trust are specifically named by the settlor in the trust deed. They can be individuals, groups of people, or organisations. The entitlements of each beneficiary are clearly defined and cannot be changed by the trustees.

Beneficiaries of a non-discretionary trust are responsible for paying income tax on any income they receive from the trust. The trustees must provide beneficiaries with the necessary information to report this income. Capital gains tax may also apply if beneficiaries dispose of assets received from the trust.

The terms of a non-discretionary trust are generally fixed and cannot be changed by the trustees. However, the trust deed may include provisions allowing amendments under certain conditions, or a court may permit changes if circumstances significantly change or if the trust’s purpose cannot be fulfilled as intended.

If a beneficiary of a non-discretionary trust dies, the trust deed will specify what happens to their share of the trust assets. Typically, their share may pass to their estate or be redistributed among the remaining beneficiaries according to the terms of the trust.

Trustees manage non-discretionary trust assets by following the instructions set out in the trust deed. They are responsible for maintaining and investing the assets prudently, ensuring that the interests of the beneficiaries are protected and that the trust’s terms are fulfilled.

Yes, non-discretionary trusts have reporting requirements. Trustees must maintain accurate records of the trust’s assets, income, and distributions. They must file annual tax returns for the trust and provide beneficiaries with the necessary tax information.

Trustees in a non-discretionary trust are responsible for managing the trust’s assets according to the terms of the trust deed. They must act in the best interests of the beneficiaries, maintain accurate records, and ensure that the assets are distributed as specified by the settlor.

A non-discretionary trust can be terminated if the trust deed specifies conditions for termination or if the trust’s purpose has been fulfilled. Additionally, the trust can be terminated by mutual agreement of the trustees and beneficiaries or by a court order under certain circumstances.


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: 11th 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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