Milroy v Lord is a landmark case in the law of trusts that established the principle that a valid trust requires both a clear intention to create the trust and a complete transfer of the trust property. This article provides an overview of the case, its key principles, and its subsequent impact on trust law.

In 1862, Sarah Milroy attempted to create a trust by gifting government stocks to her niece, Emily Lord. However, she did not transfer the stocks to Emily’s name and instead retained possession of them until her death. Upon Sarah’s passing, Emily claimed the stocks as the beneficiary of the trust, while Sarah’s executor argued that a valid trust had not been created due to the lack of a complete transfer.

The case was heard by the English Court of Chancery in 1864. The court ruled in favor of Sarah’s executor, holding that a trust required “two essential elements”: (1) a clear intention to create a trust, and (2) a complete transfer of the trust property to the trustee. In this case, the court found that Sarah’s intentions were ambiguous and that she had not effectively transferred the stocks to Emily. Therefore, no valid trust had been created.

Key Principles of Milroy v Lord


Milroy v Lord established that a clear intention to create a trust is essential. This intention must be communicated through words or actions that unequivocally demonstrate the settlor’s purpose to create a trust.

In Milroy v Lord, Sarah’s intentions were unclear as she failed to execute a formal deed of trust or transfer the stocks to Emily’s name. Therefore, the court found that she had not evinced a clear intention to create a trust.

Transfer of Property

The second key principle of Milroy v Lord is that a valid trust requires a complete transfer of the trust property to the trustee. This transfer must be legal and effective and must give the trustee control and possession of the property.

In Milroy v Lord, Sarah retained possession of the stocks and did not transfer them to Emily. Thus, the court held that there was no complete transfer of the property and, consequently, no valid trust had been created.

Resulting Trust

In certain circumstances, even if a transfer of property is incomplete, a resulting trust may arise. This occurs when the settlor does not manifest an intention to benefit themselves and fails to effectively transfer the property to a third party. In such cases, the property will revert to the settlor or their estate.

In Milroy v Lord, the court did not find that a resulting trust had arisen as Sarah intended to benefit Emily. However, the court did note that a resulting trust could have arisen if Sarah had intended to transfer the stocks to Emily but had failed to do so due to a mistake in the transfer.

Impact of Milroy v Lord on Trust Law

Necessity of a Complete Transfer

Milroy v Lord emphasized the importance of a complete transfer of property in creating a valid trust. This principle has been consistently applied in subsequent cases and has served to prevent the creation of trusts based on mere promises or intention.

To ensure a valid trust, settlors must ensure that they have transferred the trust property to the trustee in a manner that is legally effective and gives the trustee control and possession of the property.

Formalities and Writing Requirements

While Milroy v Lord does not impose a requirement for a written trust, it does suggest that written evidence of the trust’s creation can be helpful in establishing the settlor’s intention.

In many jurisdictions, statutes or case law have established formal requirements for the creation of trusts, such as the requirement for a written trust deed or the need to register the trust with a government agency. These formal requirements serve to provide evidence of the settlor’s intention and to prevent fraud.

Constructive Trusts

In certain situations, courts may impose a constructive trust even in the absence of a complete transfer of property. This occurs when a person has acquired property through fraud, undue influence, or breach of fiduciary duty.

Constructive trusts are imposed as a remedy to prevent unjust enrichment and to protect the rights of the rightful owner. While Milroy v Lord deals with the creation of express trusts, it does not preclude the creation of constructive trusts in appropriate circumstances.


Milroy v Lord remains a fundamental case in the law of trusts. It established the essential principles of intention and transfer of property as prerequisites for the creation of a valid trust. These principles have guided courts in subsequent cases and have contributed to the development of a clear and consistent framework for trust law.

Although the law of trusts has evolved over time, the principles established in Milroy v Lord continue to play a vital role in the creation and administration of trusts. By adhering to these principles, settlors and trustees can ensure that their trusts are valid and effective.



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