A trust is a relationship whereby property is held by one party for the benefit of another. A trust is created by a settlor, who transfers property to a trustee. The trustee holds that property for the trust’s beneficiaries. Trusts exist mainly in common law jurisdictions and similar systems existed since Roman times.
An owner of property, that places property into trust turns over part of his or her bundle of rights to the trustee, separating the property’s legal ownership and control from its equitable ownership and benefits. This may be done for tax avoidance reasons or to control the property and its benefits if the settlor is absent, incapacitated, or dead. Trusts are frequently created in wills, defining how money and property will be handled for children or other beneficiaries.
The trustee is given legal title to the trust property, but is obligated to act for the good of the beneficiaries. The trustee may be compensated and have expenses reimbursed, but otherwise must turn over all profits from the trust properties. Trustees who violate this fiduciary duty are self-dealing. Courts can reverse self dealing actions, order profits returned, and impose other sanctions.
The trustee may be either a individual, a company, or a public body. There may be a single trustee or multiple co-trustees. The trust is governed by the terms under which it was created. In most jurisdictions, this requires a contractual trust agreement or deed.