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Declaration of Trust

It is now common for people to buy property together outside of marriage. Often, to help fund a purchase, one or both parties to the relationship will receive financial support from their parents.

If a married couple splits up, the separation of their assets and finances would be dealt with by divorce proceedings. However, for unmarried couples there is no equivalent process and each party is entitled to walk away with his/her own assets.

The division of jointly owned property is the issue that frequently causes the biggest concern when unmarried couples separate. If there is a disagreement, it is possible to ask a court to determine their rights, but that will be time consuming, costly, and very stressful.

The outcome of court proceedings will depend upon the unique facts of a particular case. However, the starting point for a court is always - where there is joint ownership, in the absence of clear evidence to the contrary, there is a presumption of equality.

Consequently, if there is no evidence of an agreement to own the property in unequal shares, the partner who contributes the most may ultimately lose out. Similarly, half of any contribution made by a parent may end up with their child’s ex-partner.

The Benefits of a Declaration of Trust

To minimise the scope for a future disagreement unmarried couples should enter into a declaration of trust. This enables them to set out their respective shares in the property and to recognise and protect the interests of their parents. Ideally, it should be put in place at the time the property is purchased.

It is also advisable to use a declaration of trust to record an intention of equal ownership when unequal contributions are made to the purchase. This will ensure that the agreement is honoured if the relationship breaks down. Also, if the party who makes the bigger contribution dies or becomes incapable, those dealing with his/her estate will be bound by the declaration.

As a final word of caution, remember that unmarried couples should make a will if they wish to confer any benefit upon one another on death. In some instances jointly owned assets pass automatically to a surviving co-owner without the need for a will. However, in the absence of a will, an unmarried partner has no entitlement to the deceased’s individual assets or his/her share of joint assets held under a tenancy in common.

Howells Solicitors are specialists in the fields of trusts and estates and can help you if you would like to discuss protecting or enforcing your interests in a property. To arrange an initial consultation with a declaration of trust specialist, please contact Howells Solicitors on 02920 404034 or at

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