Are you ensuring your assets are managed according to your wishes after you’re gone? A trust will is the cornerstone of a secure estate plan. This guide explains how trust wills serve to enforce your preferences for asset distribution, offering straight-talking insights into their purpose and the peace of mind they provide.

Key Takeaways

  • Will trusts serve to protect assets and ensure they are distributed according to the creator’s wishes after death, with trustees managing the estate for diverse beneficiaries, which can include charities, organisations, or future generations.

  • Life interest trusts provide immediate benefits to a primary beneficiary while preserving the underlying capital for future beneficiaries, offering the life tenant the right to live in the property and enjoy its income during their lifetime.

  • Discretionary trusts offer flexibility and protection, allowing trustees to make decisions on asset distribution based on changing circumstances, and can provide tax advantages and protect against creditors while also offering ways to minimise inheritance and income taxes.

Exploring the Basics of Will Trusts

Image of a will and trust document

Consider both a will trust as a treasure chest that safeguards valuable assets, poised to be accessed when the time is right. It allows someone to benefit from an asset without being the legal owner and becomes active upon the creator’s death. The beneficiaries can be as diverse as the assets themselves—individuals, charities, or other organisations, and even those not yet born can benefit.

Entrusted with safeguarding this treasure chest are, in fact, the trustees. They manage the assets according to the terms set out in the will, ensuring the beneficiaries’ interests are taken care of. The will trust comes into play during the ‘period of administration,’ the duration of which varies based on the complexity of the estate.

The Mechanics of Life Interest Trusts

Illustration of a trustee managing assets

Envision a trust which simultaneously offers immediate benefits to a beneficiary and conserves the underlying capital for others. That’s the magic of a life interest trust. It allows a beneficiary, often a surviving spouse, to receive immediate income or benefits from trust assets without holding rights to the underlying principal.

The right to live in a property, typically the family home, is granted for their lifetime before transferring the estate to the deceased’s family members or other designated beneficiaries.

Life Tenant’s Rights

But what exactly can a life tenant do? Think of the life tenant as a temporary custodian of the trust property. They have the right to:

  • Occupy it as their residence

  • Enjoy the income generated from the trust assets during their lifetime

  • Receive income from or use the property held in the trust

It’s their lawful privilege to do so.

Essentially, the life tenant frequently has the entitlement to the entirety of the trust’s income for their lifetime.

Protecting Future Beneficiaries

Life interest trusts act as a beacon, steering the future course of your estate. They ensure that future beneficiaries, often children, receive the estate once the life tenant passes away. The individuals defined in the trust, the ‘remainderman’ beneficiaries, receive the assets outright following the life tenant’s death. These trusts can be structured to last up to 125 years, ensuring the protection of future beneficiaries’ interests over an extended period.

The trustees manage the assets in the best interests of both the current life tenant and the successive remainderman beneficiaries.

Estate Planning with Discretionary Trusts

Just like a chameleon adjusts to its surroundings, so do discretionary trusts adapt to fluctuating circumstances. They allow trustees to choose how and when money is distributed among beneficiaries. These trusts can protect against creditors or during life events like divorce or bankruptcy, as beneficiaries do not have an absolute right to the trust assets.

Trustee Discretion and Guidelines

Trustees in a fully discretionary trust enjoy complete decision-making power. They hold the reins, deciding how the distributions should be made, depending on their judgment. However, they are guided by a non-binding letter of wishes, which provides direction on how the settlor intends the trust to operate.

Tax Considerations for Discretionary Trusts

Despite the challenge of steering through the tax landscape, discretionary trusts prove to be an invaluable tool. They can:

  • Reduce the inheritance tax burden, depending on whether they are set up during the settlor’s lifetime or after death.

  • Provide flexibility in distributing assets to beneficiaries.

  • Protect assets from creditors and potential lawsuits.

  • Maintain privacy and confidentiality.

  • Facilitate charitable giving.

But be aware that if the settlor dies within 7 years of the transfer, Inheritance Tax may be incurred.

Safeguarding Minor Children with a Bare Trust

Illustration of assets being held in a bare trust for minor children

For the protection of minor children, the bare trust steps up as a protective force. It safeguards assets until the child reaches the age of majority, at which point they gain absolute rights to the trust’s income and capital. The trustees manage the assets until the child beneficiary reaches legal age, acting with care and skill and making wise investments without needing extensive trust knowledge.

Navigating Taxes Associated with Will Trusts

Will trusts encompass more than just asset management; they also involve tax management. From capital gains tax to inheritance tax and income tax, every aspect has to be considered. Holdover relief can be claimed to defer capital gains tax when transferring assets into or out of a discretionary trust, postponing the tax until the trustees sell the asset or transfer it to a beneficiary.

Minimising Inheritance Tax

Who wouldn’t want to minimise their tax burden? Will trusts can be used to provide tax advantages, such as lessening the inheritance tax, protecting assets from creditors, and ensuring beneficiaries’ eligibility for state benefits.

Gifts into a bare trust are treated as potentially exempt transfers, with no ongoing inheritance tax implications if the settlor lives for seven more years after making the gift.

Income Tax Obligations

Income tax obligations are another crucial aspect to consider. Here are some key points to keep in mind:

  • The first £1,000 of a trust’s income is taxed at standard rates.

  • Any excess income is taxed at higher trust rates.

  • Trustees have the option to either collect trust income and pay the due taxes or arrange for the income to be directly distributed to the life tenant or other beneficiaries.

Avoiding Probate with Trusts

Photo of a family discussing estate planning options

One of the key benefits of trusts is their potential to circumvent the probate process. By transferring the ownership of assets to a trust, trustees can manage the assets until the settlor’s death, allowing for direct transfer of assets to the beneficiaries, thus avoiding the need for probate.

This means the assets are not part of the settlor’s estate upon their passing, avoiding the need for probate and allowing a swifter assets distribution to beneficiaries.

Estate Planning Options for Complex Estates

Intricate estates necessitate sophisticated solutions. Discretionary trusts allow for adaptable beneficiary designations, enabling trustees to adjust to varying needs and family situations. From protecting a portion of the property from the surviving spouse’s care costs to ensuring intended asset distribution to children from previous relationships, life interest trusts can cater to a range of complex family dynamics.

A Guide to Choosing Trustees and Executors

Selecting the appropriate trustees and executors is vital; they must be willing, capable, and prepared to deal with their responsibilities. While trustees can also be beneficiaries, at least one trustee should not be a beneficiary to avoid conflicts of interest.

Executors must be individuals over the age of 18, of sound mind, and not incarcerated.

Integrating Will Trusts into Your Last Will

Illustration of a professional drafting a will trust

Embedding a will trust into your last will requires expert advice. You must:

  1. State your intention to create the trust

  2. Define the assets to be held in trust

  3. Identify the beneficiaries

  4. Specify when the trust becomes active

Estate planning professionals can help you choose the type of will trust based on your goals, the complexity of your estate, and the needs of the beneficiaries.

Real-Life Examples of Will Trusts in Action

From a single parent’s will trust providing for her young daughter’s care and guardianship to a widow streamlining the inheritance process for her children, will trusts have proven their effectiveness time and again. These scenarios showcase how well-crafted will trusts can navigate complex family dynamics and ensure that your assets are distributed according to your wishes.


In a nutshell, will trusts are powerful tools for estate planning. Whether it’s a life interest trust providing for a surviving spouse, a discretionary trust adapting to ever-changing family circumstances, or a bare trust safeguarding the interests of minor children, will trusts offer control, protection, and peace of mind. By understanding the nuances of these trusts, you can ensure your assets navigate the future as you envision.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are trust Wills a good idea?

Yes, trust wills can be a good idea because they can help minimise inheritance tax, take advantage of tax relief, and ensure that beneficiaries’ access to benefits is not affected by their inheritance.

How does a trust will work?

A trust will works by granting named trustees control over assets on behalf of beneficiaries, who may receive specified provisions or have trustees’ discretion in distributing funds.

What does held in trust mean in a will?

In a trust, assets are held and managed by one person (the trustee) for the benefit of another (the beneficiary). The person who establishes the trust is called the settlor.

What is a life interest trust?

A life interest trust allows a beneficiary to receive immediate income or benefits from trust assets without holding rights to the underlying principal. This type of trust can be useful for providing for a surviving spouse while ultimately passing assets to other beneficiaries.