Disputes over trusts soar as slowdown hits assets

Volatile markets blamed for rise in court cases and family splits. By Kate Hughes

Disputes over inherited assets are threatening to tear families and friends apart, lawyers have warned, as the stock market crash and housing slump prompts a 152 per cent increase in the number of beneficiaries suing trustees for mismanagement.

Trusts are widely used in the UK to hold an individual's assets tax-efficiently for the benefit of third parties, usually family members, but the collapsing value of many of those assets, including shares and residential property, means more cases than ever are being brought to the High Court in London, with "potentially ruinous" consequences.

Disputes launched in the High Court over property held in trust jumped to 111 in 2010, up from 44 in 2009 and 13 in 2008. In 2007, before the credit crunch took hold, there were just three such cases. But with many cases settled out of court this is likely to be the tip of the iceberg, according to the City law firm Wedlake Bell.

The trustees being sued are often family friends and relatives who may have taken on the unpaid role as a favour to the family, says Fay Copeland, head of private client team for Wedlake Bell.

"The extreme volatility of the stock markets and other asset classes will have created a lot of big investment losses. Beneficiaries will want torecoup that lost money and suingthe trustees is seen as one solution," she says.

"A lot of trustees are amateurs or 'lay' trustees, possibly a member of the beneficiaries' family, but unfortunately that doesn't provide them with a great deal of legal protection. Trustees have a duty to their beneficiaries which includes ensuring that the trust assets are properly managed."

If the trustees themselves are not qualified investment managers then they must appoint proper advisers and ensure that those advisers are doing a good job. However, even if the fund manager has performed badly, the trustee could still be sued for failing to replace the fund manager or allowing them to pursue an investment strategy that is too risky. If the trustees are found to have been negligent in the management of a trust's assets, they could face a potentially ruinous claim. Indeed, some are even being accused of fraud.

"A lot of lay trustees agree to take on the role without really understanding the legal risks or the fact that they might personally be liable to reimburse the trust fund for losses," Copeland warns. "They never imagine that they could be sued just for failing to keep up with what can turn out to be an incredibly complex job. It is not a role to be taken on lightly."

All trustees, whether for a small personal trust or large charity, are obliged to ensure that their decisions are in the best interests of the beneficiaries, but also that they are safeguarding the assets themselves. They must manage any conflicts of interest and act with care,including using specialist advisers as necessary.

"Becoming a trustee can be an incredibly difficult role and trustees can be put in very difficult positions," acknowledges Ben Kernigham, deputy chief executive for the National Council for Voluntary Organisations. "Anyone considering becoming a trustee should be very clear on their responsibilities and seek legal advice in advance."

Suggested Topics
Sport
Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Voices
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
Sport
world cup 2014
Sport
Ray Whelan was arrested earlier this week
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
books
News
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
News
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
News
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
people
Life and Style
fashionJ Crew introduces triple zero size to meet the Asia market demand
Sport
Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini of Arsenal launch the new Puma Arsenal kits at the Puma Store on Carnaby Street
sportMassive deal worth £150m over the next five years
Arts and Entertainment
Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins
musicHolyrood MPs 'staggered' at lack of Scottish artists performing
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
News
business
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

    £60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

    Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

    £60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

    AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

    £600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

    Technical Support Analyst (C++, Windows, Linux, Perl, Graduate)

    £30000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A global leader in trading platforms and e...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice