Charitable trust

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A charitable trust is an irrevocable trust established for charitable purposes and, in some jurisdictions, a more specific term than "charitable organization". A charitable trust enjoys a varying degree of tax benefits in most countries. It also generates good will. Some important terminology in charitable trusts is the term ‘corpus’ (Latin for ‘body’) which refers to the assets with which the trust is funded and the term ‘donor’ which is the person donating assets to a charity.

In England and Wales, charitable trusts are a form of express trust dedicated to charitable goals. There are a variety of advantages to charitable trust status, including exemption from most forms of tax and freedom for the trustees not found in other types of English trust.[6] To be a valid charitable trust, the organisation must demonstrate both a charitable purpose and a public benefit.[7] Applicable charitable purposes are normally divided into four categories; trusts for the relief of poverty, trusts for the promotion of education, trusts for the promotion of religion, and all other types of trust recognised by the law, which includes trusts for the benefit of animals and trusts for the benefit of a locality. There is also a requirement that the trust's purposes benefit the public (or some section of the public), and not simply a group of private individuals.[8]

Such trusts will be invalid in several circumstances; charitable trusts are not allowed to be run for profit,[9] nor can they have purposes that are not charitable (unless these are ancillary to the charitable purpose).[10] In addition, it is considered unacceptable for charitable trusts to campaign for political or legal change, although discussing political issues in a neutral manner is acceptable.[11] Charitable trusts, as with other trusts, are administered by trustees, but there is no relationship between the trustees and the beneficiaries.[6] This results in two things; firstly, the trustees of a charitable trust are far freer to act than other trustees and secondly, beneficiaries cannot bring a court case against the trustees. Rather, the beneficiaries are represented by the Attorney General for England and Wales as a parens patriae, who appears on the part of The Crown.[12]

Jurisdiction over charitable disputes is shared equally between the High Court of Justice and the Charity Commission.[13] The Commission, the first port of call, is tasked with regulating and promoting charitable trusts, as well as providing advice and opinions to trustees on administrative matters.[14] Where the Commission feels there has been mismanagement or maladministration, it can sanction the trustees, removing them, appointing new ones or temporarily taking the trust property itself to prevent harm being done.[13] Where there are flaws with a charity, the High Court can administer schemes directing the function of the charity.[15]