It is a well-established principle of law that all non-charitable English trusts must have a beneficiary to enforce the trust and hold the trustee to his obligations. This concept is referred to as the beneficiary principle. A trust that does not have defined beneficiaries and sets out to benefit a specific purpose will be void, unless that purpose is solely charitable.

As with most rules there are exceptions. The two key exceptions to this rule are trusts created for the maintenance of specific animals, and trusts created for the upkeep or maintenance of a grave. These types of purpose trusts are known as ‘trusts of imperfect obligation’ as the objects of the trust are incapable of enforcing them. Rover’s puppy dog eyes may be convincing, but not quite enough to compel a trusts performance via court action.

A trust for the maintenance of specific animals is valid. As a trust of imperfect obligation, it must be limited to a maximum period of 21 years. These types of trust are usually drafted to end on the earlier event of the end of the 21-year period or the death of the animal. This 21-year period is suitable for most common type of household pets, with dogs and cats rarely living past 18. If the testator keeps exotic birds, tortoises or other long-lived animals then this type of trust will not be suitable and alternative arrangements would need to be made.

A trust for the maintenance and upkeep of a grave is another type of trust of imperfect obligation. In these cases, the purpose is to erect and maintain a grave or monument, so again there is no beneficiary. If they are worded so they last indefinitely they will be void, but if limited to a period of 21 years the trust is valid.

In both cases the trusts should be worded so that any remaining funds pass somewhere at the end of the trust. This may be to charity, a specific beneficiary or to the residuary estate. A testator should also be encouraged to write a supporting letter of wishes to give their trustees guidance on how they would like the funds to be used, or in the case of animals some instructions on how they should be cared for.

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