Hawkesley v May

Hawkesley v May [1956] 1 QB 304

In this case it was held by Havers J that there was a duty to inform the beneficiaries of the existence of a trust and the beneficiaries rights under the trust.

Havers J ruled that there was a distinction between the position of a Trustee and an Executor of a will, in that a trust deed is a private document to which the cestui que trust had no easy access, whereas a will was in a sense a public document and therefore, the doctrine that there was no legal duty upon an executor to give notice of the terms of a legacy to the legatee should not be extended to a Trustee under an express trust (eg a superannuation fund).

At pp 311 Havers J states:

Trustees have a duty to inform a beneficiary not only of the existence of the trust but also his rights under it“.

Havers J at pp315 refers to Halsbury’s Laws of England, 2nd ed (1939), vol 33, p. 229 para 410:

“The paragraph concerned is in regard to the duties of a trustee with respect to keeping an account, and it says: “He – that is the trustee – is also bound to allow a cestui que trust (ie a beneficiary) to inspect the trust accounts and all documents relating to the trust, and ought to explain to the cestui que trust what his rights are. That is the passage relied upon, and the authority which is cited in Halsbury’s Laws of England in support of the passage is Burrows v Walls (1855) 5 De G.M. & G. 233″

Havers J also held that a Trustee had an obligation to disclose to any beneficiary on demand any deed or document relating to the trust including an opinion by counsel as to its effect.


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