Once a will is admitted to probate it is a public document, so sometimes a testator will resort to a secret trust.
Secret trusts are back in the news, or at least the legal news, because of a court case involving the estate of the artist Lucien Freud. Freud made a will in 2004 containing a ‘half-secret trust’, and replaced this with another will in 2006 apparently leaving the bulk of his very valuable estate to two individuals.
A ‘half-secret’ trust is where the will makes it clear that property is held by named trustees for the benefit of others, but does not identify these beneficiaries, that information having been communicated to the trustees by other means. A fully-secret trust is when the people receiving the property under the will appear to be receiving the property for their own benefit, but again have been told about the trust by the testator. In Victorian times both varieties were much used to allow testators to provide for mistresses and illegitimate children.
In the Freud case the disappointed relative argued, unsuccessfully, that the half secret trust from the earlier will carried over to the later will. Reading between the lines it seems that the later will created a fully secret trust, but if so it’s a secret, which is the point.
These sort of arrangements are still employed, although for obvious reasons it is difficult to know how often. Setting up a trust of any type should only be undertaken having obtained expert advice, and we are here to help, whatever level of secrecy you have in mind.