How do you know if there’s a trust in a will?

by | Nov 1, 2023

If you’ve been appointed executor for a loved one’s will, you have a legal duty to ensure their wishes are followed. Trusts are increasingly common in wills, and you must deal with them properly to avoid problems further down the line. How can you tell if there’s a trust in a will? It’s always best to get professional advice, but here are some words and phrases to look out for.

Look for words that describe a trust

When we write a will, we always label trusts clearly with a heading that says what type of trust it is. Many will writers take the same approach, but it’s not always the case. Start by looking for a heading that mentions a trust. However, if that isn’t there, look for phrases like ‘discretionary trust’ or ‘property trust’.

Does the will appoint trustees?

If there’s a trust, there must be trustees. Trustees are responsible for administering the trust and ensuring everyone follows the rules. For example, if a trust gives an income to a vulnerable person, the trustees will be responsible for making sure they get the money when they need it.

Trustees should be named in the will, so look for the names.

Look for trust assets

A trust protects an asset, so the will should define what that asset is. It could be a house, such as the family home, or whatever is left over when all the other bequests have been given out. All wills mention assets, but a defined trust asset will help you understand whether there’s a trust.

Sometimes the trust isn’t needed

The residence nil rate band gives you a tax-free allowance when you leave the family home to your descendants. Older wills sometimes use trusts to create the same effect and they need dealing with properly, even if they’re not needed. Look for phrases like nil rate band discretionary trust. Some will say property or discretionary trust, so check what the trust is for before deciding whether it’s needed.

Trustees and beneficiaries

Trusts protect assets when people don’t want loved ones to lose their inheritance. Beneficiaries can seek compensation from trustees if a trust isn’t dealt with properly. Sometimes, the trustees and beneficiaries will be the same people. However, if they aren’t, you could have a problem if you don’t follow the rules correctly. Trusts have a purpose, and trustees must make sure the trust does its job.

Look at other documents

Trusts aren’t always easy to read, although we try to make them as clear as possible. We send an advice letter explaining what’s in the will and why it’s there. They’re written in layman’s terms so they’re easier to understand. We advise our clients to keep the letter as it helps the executors and trustees later. When you deal with a will, look to see whether any supporting documents can help.

Get professional advice

As an executor or trustee, getting professional advice helps you to understand what’s in the will and what you need to do. Talking with a professional will make things clearer for you if you’re unsure (or even if you think you are). We’re happy to have a quick chat. You might be able to handle everything yourself, but we’re here if you need help.

Trust rules are more onerous now, and getting proper advice means you can avoid getting into trouble with beneficiaries or HMRC. (

If you’re ready to make your will or need to understand your duties as a trustee or executor, we can help. Get in touch using the form below or call us on 0116 380 0752.

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