Trust, Wills and Probate

    High Court Focuses on Essentials to Resolve Family Trust Dispute

    Even the most careful drafting cannot always succeed in dispelling ambiguity or in making provision for all future eventualities. As a High Court case concerning a family trust showed, however, the courts are always there to act as a neutral umpire in resolving otherwise intractable disputes.

    A successful businessman had, by a 1925 indenture, established a substantial trust fund for the benefit of his only daughter. After she died childless, the fund passed to her uncle's 13 children. One of the 13 had two sons, Jeffery and David, both deceased. Jeffery had two living children while David had none.

    An issue arose as to whether David's share (the disputed share) of the fund accrued to Jeffery's children or to the shares of the uncle's 13 children and their offspring. The latter group contained more than 30 individuals. In those circumstances, the Public Trustee referred the issue to the Court for resolution.

    The Court noted that its task was to put all extraneous factors to one side and to focus exclusively on the wording of the indenture. Past events and the opinions of beneficiaries and potential beneficiaries were irrelevant. On a true interpretation of the document, the Court found that the disputed share fell to be distributed to Jeffery's son and daughter.

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