Declaratory judgments – and why they matter in trust disputes
The first thing you will notice about the Declaratory Judgments Act 1908 is its age. This is law has been around now for more than a century and it’s still very useful.
A declaratory judgment is a ruling from the court about a legal state of affairs. You might want to know for example whether a trustee was validly appointed. Or about whether a trust deed permitted the trustees to act in a particular way.
We all know that trust disputes – like all disputes – get emotive. It’s not uncommon for beneficiaries to think that the trustees have it in for them. But if you say that, you can bet that conversation will get heated. Did the trustee have it in for you? Who knows? The conversation may well end in a stalemate.
From a practical perspective it’s often much easier therefore to have a discussion about questions where there is an objectively right answer.
That’s where the law comes in. Because often at the heart of even most heated trust disputes there is a serious question about whether the trustees have acted lawfully and in accordance with the documents.
These kinds of questions don’t relate the trustees’ intentions. It’s not about whether someone was nice enough. Rather, these are legal questions where there is a right answer.
Yes, the human component will still be there. Of course it’s going to be difficult if someone has got the law wrong, but at least a conversation about the law can be more constructive.
Seeking a declaration can resolve a dispute, and furthermore, everyone will know the correct answer.