Settled land act settlement

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Under the Settled land act (1925) (SLA), any attempt to create Successive interests in land resulted in the creation of a settlement Trust governed by the provisions of that Act. An SLA settlement also resulted by operation of law when property was conveyed to an infant. This remained the case until Tolata came into force in 1997, although existing 1925-style settlements continue to be governed by the 1925 rules.

The prototypical SLA settlement was created by the execution of two documents: a Vesting deed, that conveyed the title to the land to the Tenant for life, and a trust instrument that defined the operation of the trust and the powers of the trustees. The tenant for life usually occupied the land and held the legal title on behalf of the anticipated successors. This arrangement represents a rather unusual trust - the legal title is not held by the trustees, but by a person who is, in effect, one of the beneficiaries. Of course, there is nothing to stop the trustees and beneficiaries of a trust being the same people: almost all domestic property that is jointly owned will declare the owners to hold on trust for each other. What is odd about the SLA settlement is that there are 'trustees of the settlement' who have the Fiduciary obligations of trustees, but in general do not hold the legal title. This arrangement makes sense when you consider that most settlements would be created by Will: for example: My house in East Dogpatch I leave to my wife for life, then to our children absolutely. The tenant for life - the wife in this case - acquires legal title by inheritance; no vesting deed would be necessary in this case. In addition, identifying the life tenant as the legal owner makes it easier for the estate to be sold, if necessary. A prospective purchaser can negotiate freely with the life tenant, who generally happens to be in occupation.

In an SLA settlement, the tenant for life has wide powers. These powers include a power to sell the land, and to grant leases (with certain limitations). These powers are not unlimited, however, and some management decisions could not be made by the tenant for life except with the agreement of the trustees. In addition, the tenant for life can not accept the purchase money of a sale. For Overreaching to apply, the money must be paid to the trustees of the settlement, despite the fact that they hold no interest in the property. The trustees excercise general supervisory duties over the trust, and these will be important if the life tenant abuses his powers. Although the life tenant is not a trustee, he or she is obliged to deal with the land in such a way as to protect the interests of all the beneficiaries.

The SLA settlement is a complicated legal device, and expensive to administer. For example, the settlement does not automatically come to an end even when the last person with an interest comes into possession. It requires the execution of a deed by the trustees to free the new owner from the trust. Moreover, whenever a tenant for life died, the legal title would not pass automatically to the next person entitled, but required further deeds. It was therefore unfortunate that an SLA settlement was deemed to be created in many circumstances where a trust was declared over land, against the intentions of the settlor and the interests of the beneficiaries, and could even be created accidentally. As a result, there arose the equitable device of the 'Trust for sale', a piece of sleight-of-hand which avoided the SLA. TOLATA abolishes both trusts for sale and SLA settlements, and replaces them with one unified Trust of land.

Land and Property Law