PROPERTY DISPUTE SOLICITOR CORNWALL: Joint owners of property who live together may still override a declaration of trust as to their rights

Even where there is a properly executed deed of trust on joint ownership the general rule that it is conclusive of the beneficial rights subsisting under a trust of land can be overturned.

Usually the law permits few exceptions to the general rule that if the trust deed is a properly executed deed of trust on joint ownership then it is conclusive of the beneficial rights subsisting under the trust.
It will rarely be overturned  except for rescission for fraud or mistake, or rectification to give effect to the intentions that the parties had at the date of the transaction, but which were only imperfectly expressed or not at all.

Another case departing from the general rule is provided by Clarke v Meadus in 2010. It was only an appeal from an order striking out the claimant’s claim but the court heard the issue as to  whether supervening events could override an express declaration of trust.

The claimant (C) and the defendant (M) were daughter and who in 1996 executed a declaration of trust over land in equal shares.

C alleged that, shortly thereafter, M executed a will leaving her 50% share of the property to C so she contended that, in reliance on further assurances about her inheritance of M’s half share, she sold a house and moved into the subject property.

Some 10 years later M changed her will and left her half share to C’s sister. C brought a claim alleging proprietary estoppel and a remedial constructive trust.

At first instance, the claim was struck out, the court holding that the express trust was conclusive but the appeal was allowed turning on her alleged change of position post-1996.

If she could prove her ‘bargain’ claim, the terms of the express declaration of trust could be overridden by proprietary estoppel. It did not follow that C had no claim until M’s promise had been resiled from. And although its star had waned in recent years, it would be wrong to bar C’s ‘remedial’ constructive trust claim.

So this case is further evidence of proprietary estoppel as a head of claim and confirms  that express trusts will not be conclusive on the parties’ respective rights.

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