Resulting Trusts

What are resulting trusts?

In English Law ‘resulting trusts’ are one of the two main categories of informal trusts, the other being that of ‘constructive trusts.’ The circumstances in which property will become subject to a resulting trust were recently examined by the House of Lords inWestdeutsche Landesbank Girozentrale v Islington London Borough Council [1996] AC 669.  Lord Browne-Wilkinson identified two circumstances in which a resulting trust would arise: 

‘Under existing law a resulting trust arises in two sets of circumstances: (A) where A makes a voluntary payment to B or pays (wholly or in part) for the purchase of property which is vested either in B alone or in joint names of A and B, there is a presumption that A did not intend to make a gift to B; the money or property is held on trust for A (if he is the sole provider of the money) or in the case of a joint purchaser by A and B in shares proportionate to their contributions. It is important to stress that this is only a presumption, which presumption is easily rebutted either by the counter presumption of advancement or by direct evidence of A’s intention to make an outright transfer…(B) Where A transfers property to B on express trusts, but the trusts declared do not exhaust the whole beneficial interest.’

Distinguishing resulting and constructive trusts

In some cases, the House of Lords seem to have used ‘resulting’ and ‘constructive’ trusts as interchangeable terms, suggesting that it is not necessary to distinguish between them. However, it is submitted that they are fundamentally different, operating on different principles, and that they need to be strictly differentiated.

Constructive trusts are imposed by the court as a consequence of the conduct of the party who becomes a trustee. Resulting trusts are not imposed as a response to the conduct of the trustee, but to give effect to the implied intentions of the owner. Where a transfer of property has occurred and the legal title has been transferred, but the transferor has failed to show an intention to divest himself fully of all his interest in that property, the transferee will not be permitted to receive the property absolutely for his own benefit. Instead, he will hold it on trust for the transferor. The equitable interests is said to ‘result back’ to the transferor, thus ensuring that he retains his interest in the property.  Practical imperatives may also demand that a distinction be drawn between beneficial entitlements taking effect under resulting and constructive trusts. Re Densham [1975] 1 WLR 1519 concerned a dispute as to the ownership of a matrimonial home. Whilst the husband was the sole legal owner of the house, his wife had contributed towards the purchase price and they had also agreed that ownership should be jointly shared. Goff J held that, in consequence of the agreement, the wife was prima facie entitled to a beneficial half share in the ownership of the house by way of a constructive trust, and that through her direct financial contribution to the purchase price she was also entitled to a ninth share of the beneficial ownership by way of a resulting trust. However, because the husband was bankrupt, she was held unable to assert any entitlement by way of the constructive trust, because it was not a settlement made for ‘valuable consideration’ and therefore void against his trustee in bankruptcy. Nevertheless, she was able to assert her entitlement by way of the resulting trust.

Re Densham therefore illustrates the need to distinguish between the operation of resulting and constructive trusts.

Rationale of resulting trusts

In Westdeutsche Landesbank Girozentrale v Islington London Borough Council [1996] AC 669 Lord Browne-Wilkinson stated that resulting trusts arise to fulfil the implied intentions of the parties:

‘Both types of resulting are traditionally regarded as examples of trusts giving effect to the common intentions of the parties. A resulting trust is not imposed by law against the intentions of the trustee (as is a constructive trust) but gives effect to his presumed intention.’

However, this formulation should be subject to question.  Whilst it is certainly the case that a presumed resulting trust arises in consequence of the presumed intention of the transferor of the trust property (or contributor to its purchase as the case may be) it is not necessarily the case that the trustee who received the legal title intended the property to be held on trust. In many cases, a resulting trust has been found in circumstances where the transferee of the legal title anticipated that a gift had been made divesting the transferor of his entire interest in the property. This can be seen from the fact that many cases involve a dispute as to whether a presumption of resulting trust has been rebutted. As Lord Browne-Wilkinson himself observed, a resulting trust of the first type arises because ‘there is a presumption that A did not intend to make a gift to B.’ A resulting trust will arise in favour of A in such circumstances even though B anticipated that he was the beneficiary of an absolute gift, and in this sense B will be required to hold the property on resulting trust against his intentions. More significantly, a resulting rust may even arise where the transferee of property was unaware that the transfer had occurred. Therefore it should not be thought that a resulting trust will only arise on the basis of the mutual intention of the parties. Instead, a resulting trust should arise whenever a transferee (or contributor) cannot be shown to have possessed the intention to make a gift.

As Lord Goff stated, a presumed resulting trust arises when there are:

‘…voluntary payments by A to B, or for the purchase of property in the name of B or in his and A’s joint names, where there is no presumption of advancement or evidence of intention to make an out-and-out gift.’