Interpretation of family trusts: case update Millar v Millar

To date there has been little authority for the interpretation of family trusts. However, in the recent High Court case of Millar v Millar [2018] EWHC 1926 (Ch), HHJ Paul Matthews stated that 'there can be no doubt that the principles of interpretation for commercial documents set out in [the West Bromwich case] also apply to trusts and wills'. These rules were applied by the Supreme Court in the will construction case Marley v Rawlings [2015] AC 129.

The claim in Millar concerned the contradictory wording of separate clauses in a lifetime trust. Two earlier clauses gave vested interests in the reversion to the settlors and created a power of appointment exercisable in favour of the settlors amongst others; whereas a later clause excluded the settlors from receiving any benefit from the trust. The solicitor who drafted the trust deed confirmed in a witness statement that the later clause should not have been included.

Accordingly HHJ Paul Matthews stated that there was clear evidence that the true intention of the settlors was that they should benefit under the two earlier clauses of the settlement and that the later clause inconsistent with that intention should not have been included. He held that, in the first judgement of its kind, the later clause be disregarded as a matter of construction.

For more information please contact Harriet Martin, Solicitor in the Tax, Trusts and Succession team, on or +44 (0)20 7788 6321.