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Beneficiary Request for Information

Reasons to choose Wilson Browne

The High Court has determined that a request by trust beneficiaries for more information about the trust cannot be dismissed by the trustees’ mere say-so that they already have enough.

The High Court was asked to consider a claim brought by three grandchildren of the late Gladys Tamplin who left a farm in trust by her Will some 30 years ago.
Only two of the original beneficiaries, Edward Tamplin and Jane Wayne, are still alive and remain as Trustees along with Edward’s son John. The three other beneficiaries are the settlor’s grandchildren – Hugh Lewis, Rhys Lewis and Sadie Lougher.

The grandchildren had asked the Trustees for information about their negotiations and dealings with the land which is now valued in the region of £10million and has development potential for housing. The beneficiaries wanted to know about distributions that had been made to other beneficiaries but not to them as well as option agreements and the generation of income from the farm.

The grandchildren, having failed to obtain satisfaction from the trustees, took the matter to the Bath County Court from where it was transferred to the Bristol District Registry of the England and Wales High Court.

Lewis v Tamplin was heard by Matthews HHJ who found that the Trustees had “taken an extreme and in [his] judgment indefensible approach to disclosure in this case, first by denying (on a very weak basis) that the claimants were beneficiaries at all, and then by putting forward a series of hopeless arguments against giving information to the beneficiaries”’. The evidence was, he said, that the claimants wanted the information for ‘precisely the right reasons, namely, to hold the trustees to account, and thus to vindicate their own beneficial interests, by way of an action for breach of trust if need be’.

‘I do not accept the argument for the trustees that the court should not order disclosure of particular categories of documents merely because in the opinion of the trustees the beneficiaries already have had sufficient information’, he said. “The beneficiaries have the right to hold trustees to account for their stewardship of the trust fund and the performance of the trust obligations which they accepted. … The court will not be satisfied with the say-so of the trustees that they have had sufficient information already, but will make its own mind up as to whether the information sought should be disclosed.’

As to the trustees claim of legal professional privilege against the beneficiaries regarding all the trustees’ communications with their lawyers, Matthews HHJ described this as untenable. Legal advice for the benefit of the trustees personally, for example in relation to possible breach of trust liability, and which they paid for out of their own pockets, may well be privileged in favour of those trustees as against these beneficiaries, he said. ‘But, where the advice is sought for the benefit of the Tamplin Trust as a whole, and the trustees pay for that advice out of Tamplin Trust funds, then such advice, even though it may be privileged as against third parties, is not privileged as against the beneficiaries, and is liable to be ordered to be produced.’

The allegations made by the claimant grandchildren were, he said, all matters that must excite the suspicion of the court, though there may be perfectly proper and innocent explanations for all of them. ‘A prima facie case has been established in those areas’, he said, ordering the trustees to disclose a long list of documents to the claimants.

This case will be useful to beneficiaries who are struggling to extract information from Trustees about the administration of trust assets and who wish to ensure that they are fully informed about the management of those assets for their benefit.

For any advice on Wills, Trusts and Estates, please contact our Specialist Team.