In estate planning, trusts serve as essential tools for managing and distributing an individual’s assets in a controlled and deliberate manner. Trusts can safeguard assets, minimise tax liabilities, and provide structured support to beneficiaries under predetermined conditions. However, the very nature of these arrangements, coupled with the intricate dynamics of family relationships, can sometimes lead to disputes. This article explores the common types of trust disputes, particularly those involving family or sibling claims against trustees, and offers insights into resolving these conflicts effectively.


Understanding Trust Disputes

A trust dispute occurs when there is a disagreement concerning the administration, interpretation, or execution of a trust. The complexity of these disputes often escalates when they involve family members who may have conflicting interests or differing interpretations of the trust’s terms.


Common Types of Trust Disputes

  1. Disputes Over Trust Terms: These arise when trustees and beneficiaries interpret the trust document differently, leading to disagreements over the distribution of assets or the roles and powers of trustees.
  2. Beneficiary Conflicts: When beneficiaries have contrasting expectations or needs, it can lead to conflicts about how assets are managed or distributed.
  3. Trustee Management Issues: Trustees may be accused of failing to fulfil their duties, managing the trust negligently, or favouring certain beneficiaries over others.
  4. Ambiguities in Trust Documents: Vague or unclear wording in trust documents can create significant disputes regarding their interpretation and the intentions of the settlor.
  5. Legal and Tax Issues: Changes in law or beneficiary circumstances can trigger disputes, particularly around tax implications and compliance with legal standards.


Legal Framework and Trustee Responsibilities

The legal framework governing trusts is designed to ensure that trustees manage trust assets responsibly and in accordance with the settlor’s wishes. The primary duties of a trustee include:

  • Impartiality: Fair and equal treatment of all beneficiaries.
  • Prudence: Managing the trust with care, skill, and diligence.
  • Security: Ensuring trust assets are secure and well-managed.
  • Transparency: Maintaining clear records to demonstrate proper management.

Trustees must act within the powers granted by the trust deed or the law and must avoid any conflict of interest, particularly when they are also beneficiaries. They also have a legal duty to act with utmost good faith in carrying out their responsibilities.


Resolving Trust Disputes

Resolving disputes within a trust context requires a delicate balance of legal expertise and sensitivity to family dynamics. Options include:

  • Court Applications: These may be necessary to remove trustees, vary trust terms, or clarify legal uncertainties.
  • Mediation: Often a preferable first step, mediation involves a neutral third party helping the disputing parties find a mutually agreeable solution.
  • Negotiation: Parties may negotiate directly or through legal representatives to resolve their differences without the need for court intervention.


Special Considerations

In situations where trustees are family members, additional complexities arise. The dual role of a trustee-beneficiary can lead to accusations of bias or misconduct, necessitating careful oversight and sometimes legal intervention to ensure fair treatment of all parties.


Removal of Trustees

Trustees can be removed if they fail to comply with their duties or if their removal is justified by the trust’s terms or overarching legal principles. While courts can order removal, it is often preferable to explore other solutions first to avoid escalating the conflict.


Consequences of Breach of Trust

Trustees found in breach of their duties may face serious consequences, including personal liability for losses incurred by the trust or its beneficiaries. This underscores the importance of trustees adhering strictly to their duties and the terms of the trust.



Trust disputes are complex, often entangled with deep-rooted family issues that require careful and professional handling. Whether through negotiation, mediation, or litigation, it is crucial to address these disputes with a clear understanding of both the legal framework and the human elements involved.

At Midwinters, our specialist dispute solicitors, including Senior Solicitor John Keddie, are equipped to handle intricate trust and will disputes. For assistance with any trust-related issues or to learn more about our services, please visit our Will Disputes page or contact John on 01242 514674.

Navigating trust disputes requires a nuanced approach that balances legal precision with an understanding of familial relationships and emotions. By engaging professionals who specialise in these matters, families can find resolutions that honour the intent of the trust while protecting the relationships that matter most.