Are you contemplating how to secure your assets after you’re gone? Will trusts might be the answer. They are a legal means to ensure your estate is managed and disbursed according to your wishes. This article demystifies will trusts, showing you how they can protect your assets, offer tax benefits, and smooth out the inheritance process for your beneficiaries without overwhelming you with jargon or unnecessary details.

Key Takeaways

  • Will trusts are legal entities created to manage and distribute a person’s assets to their beneficiaries posthumously, involving a settlor, trustees, and beneficiaries, and can offer control over asset distribution and tax benefits.

  • There are various types of will trusts, each suited to different estate planning needs, including life interest trusts for spouses, discretionary trusts for flexibility with beneficiaries, and bare trusts for straightforward gifts to minors.

  • The role of trustees in will trusts is critical; they manage the assets, distribute inheritances, prioritise beneficiaries’ interests, and must adhere to the will’s stipulations, and it’s advisable to have a trustee who is not a beneficiary, especially in discretionary trusts.

Exploring the Fundamentals of Will Trusts

Estate planning documents on a desk

At its core, a will trust is a legal arrangement designed to facilitate the transfer of assets from you, the owner, to a trustee, who then manages these assets on behalf of your chosen beneficiaries, often family members. The players in this estate planning game? The settlor, who establishes the trust, the trustees who manage it, and the beneficiaries who reap its benefits.

The primary objective of establishing a will trust is to:

  • Safeguard your estate for future generations

  • Shield it from avoidable inheritance tax

  • Offer control over asset distribution

  • Provide tax benefits

  • Create testamentary trusts to manage specific assets or conditions following your passing

In essence, a will trust is a fort that protects your assets, enabling you to dictate their distribution and ensuring your loved ones are taken care of after you’re gone.

Navigating Different Will Trust Structures

Types of Trust

Just as every person is unique, so too are their estate planning needs. Fortunately, there are various types of will trusts to suit different circumstances – like different keys to unlock specific doors. The main types are life interest trusts, discretionary trusts, and bare trusts. Each of these has its unique benefits and is suited to different situations.

We will now examine each of these trust structures in more detail.

Life Interest Trusts: Ensuring a Partner’s Wellbeing

Life Interest Trusts are like a safety net for your surviving spouse or partner. They ensure financial stability by granting your loved one the right to income or use of assets for their lifetime, while preserving the principal assets for future beneficiaries. This type of trust offers several advantages, such as protecting assets from potential risks like remarriage or creditors, and aiding in reducing care home expenses, thereby preventing loved ones from being disinherited.

To illustrate, consider a scenario where a spouse wishes to ensure their partner can continue living in the family home after their passing, yet also wants to protect the home’s capital for children from a prior marriage. A Life Interest Trust allows this to happen. The surviving partner, or life tenant, can live in the house and also receive any income generated by the trust. If the trust’s income isn’t enough to meet their needs, they may be eligible for capital payments. This arrangement ensures a smooth transfer of assets, bypassing the probate court process. And the trust can be terminated under specific circumstances, like the death, remarriage, or cohabitation of the life tenant.

Discretionary Trusts: Flexibility for Family Circumstances

Discretionary trusts are like a flexible friend, adapting to changing family needs and circumstances. These trusts encompass a class of beneficiaries, representing a collective of potential beneficiaries within the trust. They’re particularly useful for complex estates, where the needs of multiple beneficiaries must be considered and managed.

Imagine you want your beneficiaries to receive their inheritance gradually, or you need to support a vulnerable person without impacting their means-tested benefits. A discretionary trust allows for this, giving the trustees discretion in assessing beneficiary needs and ensuring assets are distributed according to your wishes and in the best interests of the beneficiaries. However, it’s important to note that while discretionary trusts offer potential tax benefits, they can also complicate tax affairs and not all beneficiaries are assured of receiving a distribution from the trust.

Bare Trusts: Simplicity for Gifts to Minors

If you’re looking for a simple, straightforward way to pass on assets to a minor, a bare trust could be the perfect solution. In a bare trust, the beneficiary, even if they’re a minor, acquires immediate and complete ownership of the assets placed into the trust. While legal control remains with the trustee until the minor reaches a specified age, usually the age of majority, the beneficiary is able to assume control of their assets at that point.

Imagine you want to accumulate funds for your child’s future, but you don’t want them to have immediate access to the funds. Establishing a bare trust allows you to do this, providing:

  • Potential tax benefits

  • Flexibility in investment options

  • The ability for trustees to manage the assets until the child reaches an age of deemed capability.

The Role of Trustees in Will Trusts

Family meeting

Within the realm of will trusts, trustees act as the custodians of your assets. They’re appointed in the will and have the responsibility of:

  • Managing the assets

  • Determining when and how the inheritance is distributed

  • Prioritising the beneficiary’s best interests

  • Adhering strictly to the stipulations outlined in the will

Notably, a trustee can also serve as a beneficiary or an executor within a will trust. This means that the same person could potentially be managing the assets, benefiting from them, and executing the will. However, it’s generally recommended to have at least one trustee who isn’t a beneficiary, especially when trustees are granted significant discretion.

Tax Implications of Establishing a Will Trust

While will trusts can be powerful tools in estate planning, they also come with their own tax implications, including potential income tax, capital gains, and inheritance tax. It’s akin to understanding the rules of a game before you play – to make the most of your will trust, you need to understand its tax implications.

This is the juncture where professional guidance becomes integral. They can provide advice on how to structure your trust for maximum tax efficiency.

Protecting Your Estate: Benefits of Will Trusts

adult, mother, daughter

Setting up a will trust can serve as a bulwark to safeguard your estate. It offers several benefits, including:

  • Removing your assets from personal possessions, shielding them from creditors and legal challenges

  • Potentially subjecting them to different inheritance tax rules

  • Allowing you to control how your assets are distributed

  • Offering tax benefits

  • Creating testamentary trusts to manage specific assets or conditions following your passing

A will trust provides both a will and protection, ensuring the legal owner maintains control over their trust assets and that they are properly assets distributed.

In essence, a will trust can:

  • Optimise tax advantages

  • Allow you to leverage UK inheritance tax laws

  • Reduce the tax impact on estates

  • Potentially lower inheritance tax liability

  • Ease the financial burden on your beneficiaries.

Estate Planning Options: Choosing Between a Will and a Lifetime Trust

In the realm of estate planning, there is no universal solution. You have the option to create a will, a will with a will trust, and a lifetime trust, or any of them, depending on your specific needs and circumstances.

A will can distribute any assets not automatically transferred, such as trust property or retirement accounts, to chosen beneficiaries. Meanwhile, a lifetime trust can facilitate swift asset transfers, maintain confidentiality, and prevent intestacy. Establishing a trust primarily to avoid probate might be financially wise, but for smaller or uncomplicated estates, simpler options could be more approporiate. In such cases, a will may be the most effective method for distributing assets.

Crafting Your Estate Plan: Wills, Trusts, and Beyond

Formulating an effective estate plan resembles solving a complex puzzle. With effective estate planning, it’s not just about wills and trusts, but also includes other legal arrangements like:

  • lasting powers of attorney

  • adjusting property ownership

  • letters of wishes

  • guardianship

While wills and trusts are crucial components, they are part of a larger picture. A comprehensive estate plan takes into account your complete financial picture, including your assets, liabilities, and personal wishes, ensuring a smooth transition of your assets to your beneficiaries.

Safeguarding Assets for Future Generations

chain, security, metal

Will trusts can serve as a robust barrier for your estate, guaranteeing the transfer of your assets to future generations as per your desires. Interest in possession trusts, for instance, serve as a means of safeguarding property and financial assets, providing for the future well-being of your loved ones.

By retaining the assets in trust and granting the trustees the authority to determine the beneficiaries, will trusts offer the following benefits:

  • Guarantee the distribution of assets in accordance with the trust’s stipulations

  • Provide an additional layer of protection for your assets, safeguarding them from potential risks, legal disputes, or mismanagement

  • Allow for greater control over how the assets are transferred

Will Trusts in Action: Real-Life Scenarios

Practical examples offer insight into the effective utilisation of will trusts in estate planning. For instance, trusts have been used to protect inherited assets in the event of a child’s divorce.

Case studies have also shown the successful implementation of discretionary trusts, highlighting their adaptability in addressing the unique situations and needs of families. These examples underscore the strategic importance of will trusts in effectively managing and securing assets for the future well-being of loved ones.

The Impact of Local Authority Assessments on Will Trusts

Assessments by local authorities can notably influence will trusts, particularly in relation to care home expenses and inheritance. If an individual intentionally disposes of their assets to avoid charges or reduce their care costs, it may be considered as deprivation of assets by the local authority.

However, measures can be taken to protect a will trust from unfavourable local authority assessments. For instance, incorporating a Life Interest Trust in your Will can be beneficial in safeguarding your wealth from being used for care expenses.

Preserving Your Wishes: The Significance of a Letter of Wishes

A Letter of Wishes serves as a roadmap for trustees, directing them in the management and distribution of assets within a will trust. It articulates your desires and offers direction to the trustee on the appropriate management and allocation of assets, especially in relation to specific circumstances that may arise during the trust’s duration.

While Letters of Wishes are not legally binding and cannot be enforced by the courts, they typically carry significant weight with trustees and are regarded as a persuasive indication of your intentions. It’s important to provide comprehensive instructions in a Letter of Wishes, preventing misconceptions about entitlements and mitigating conflicts that arise due to misunderstandings.

Avoiding Common Pitfalls in Will Trust Creation

The process of creating a will trust can be intricate and, devoid of expert advice, may lead to common pitfalls. Professionals can identify common mistakes and offer guidance on how to prevent them, ensuring that your trust is structured correctly and in line with your objectives and intentions.

Neglecting to consider tax implications is one such pitfall that can lead to unforeseen tax bills and potential tax liabilities. Another pitfall is neglecting to consider the needs of vulnerable beneficiaries or those lacking financial management skills. Clear communication and understanding of the trust terms can help prevent disputes among beneficiaries and mitigate conflicts that arise due to misunderstandings.


In this guide, we’ve navigated the complexities of will trusts, exploring their fundamentals and different structures. We’ve delved into the roles of trustees, tax implications, and the benefits of will trusts in protecting your estate. We’ve compared estate planning options, discussed the components of a comprehensive estate plan, and explored real-life scenarios of will trusts in action. We’ve also examined the impact of local authority assessments, the significance of a Letter of Wishes, and how to avoid common pitfalls in will trust creation. As we conclude, remember that understanding will trusts is vital in ensuring your assets are passed down according to your wishes, offering you control, tax advantages, and peace of mind.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the disadvantages of a will trust?

The main disadvantages of a will trust include perceived irrevocability, loss of control over assets, and associated costs. However, it’s important to note that trusts can be made revocable, but this may lead to negative implications for tax, asset protection, and stamp duty.

What is the purpose of a will trust?

The purpose of a will trust is to grant named trustees control over assets on behalf of beneficiaries, allowing for specific provisions or discretionary distribution. This can ensure that assets are managed and distributed according to your wishes after your death.

Who owns the property in a will trust?

The legal owners of the assets held in a will trust are the trustees. They have the ownership and control over the property.

Is it better to set up a lifetime trust or a will trust?

For larger and more complex estates, using both a will trust and a lifetime trust may be beneficial. A will trust can be carefully drafted to potentially reduce the cost of probate, while a lifetime trust can help minimise or avoid probate entirely, offering a significant advantage.

What is a will trust and why is it important?

A will trust is crucial for control over asset distribution, tax benefits, and safeguarding the estate from inheritance tax.