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Legal Interest in Property Ownership


Discuss about the Legal Aspects for Law of Business Organization.

Issue: In the considered case situation; Plaintiff (Paul) is planning to sue to evict defendant (George) because according to him; he is the sole legal owner as per the applicability right of survivorship since rose died. However, the defendant will argue for an equitable interest in the cited property.

Plaintiff: Paul

Defendant: George 

Definition: Property ownership can be split into two categories: legal interest and equitable interest (Penner, 2016). An equitable interest refers to an interest held by an asset of an equitable title that shows property’ s benefitted interest which will provide the owner the right to acquire legal title, or can make claims on the equitable ground like holding of interest by a beneficiary of the trust (Wang, 2016). Equitable interest is considered as a right in equity that might be secured by an equitable cure.

Case: Chan Yuen Lan v See Fong Mun [2014]

Brief fact

In the cited  case; associated parties is one married couple (octogenarians), Mr See and Mdm Chan, the concern of this dispute was a lodge home been purchased during 1983 for approx. $1.8 million (now valued at $20 million) and is registered by the name of Mdm Chan. The price for the purchase came from several sources. After thy purchased the bungalow, Mdm Chan implemented a legal representative for Mr See their son (eldest), giving them the responsibility to maintain the bungalow and put in to sell for such price as they see fit. In 2011, Mdm Chan cancelled the power of attorney as he thought that Mr See was selling the house. This provoked Mr See to ask for the announcement that he was beneficial party to the agreement. However, Mdm Chan counterclaimed that the bungalow was a present to her as per the assumption of advancement.

In Chan Yuen Lan v See Fong Mun [2014] SGCA 36, significant explanations were given by the Court of Appeal regarding the association between the resulting trust and common intention beneficial trust for the aim of determining beneficiary interest in the event of premise dispute. In this issue, which has involved many suppositions and was remained released in Lau Siew Kim v Yeo Guan Chye Terence [2007] SGCA 54 where the same court merely inveterate the sustained significance of the undistinguishable assumptions of resulting trust and advancement.

Definition: A trust is not related as a divided legal entity. On the other hand, by considering traditional understanding it can be said that trust is announced on the property, property title is divided into legal and equitable interest (Allen & Kraakman, 2016). When the property is owned by the trust, a trustee had the legal title of the property, while the beneficiary holds the equitable title in the property (Singer, 2013). By making use of this method, it is the responsibility of trustee to manage the trust property, for example, making an investment in a trust fund also paying taxes and charges. In short, the trustee has the legal title whereas the beneficiary has a beneficial title.

Equitable Interest in Property Ownership

The present case is related to express trusts in which the legal owner had provided a declaration that they are holding the property for the benefit of indicated beneficiaries (Smith, 2016). Further; declaration in such trusts describes the proportion or manner in which they are to hold beneficial interest. This also covers provisions related to express declaration as it will override the ideologies of constructive or resulting trusts until and unless the assertion was obtained through mistake or fraud.

A father wants to grant land to his son. He prepared and provided him with a contract of transferring the land with a certificate of it. Later then they fell out and consequently, father changed his opinion of transferring the land. His son had not still left with the legal registration at Her Majesty's Land Registry. Therefore, the father claimed that the property is still in his name.

Lawton LJ and Browne-Wilkinson LJ provided a judgement stating that the premises belongs to the son, and was found on reliance for the son by his father, as the father made many efforts to make the transfer more effective. However, with no registration, and no transfer of legal title in equity, the father was not able to gain his agreement back.

This case is supported by the principle of transfer of legal title to the trustee. This case implied that this necessity is applicable only in a situation where the legal owner has the intention to create an express trust through the transfer of legal title to a third party. In the cited situation; the declaration by an individual is not adequate for the formation of trust, as express trust will come into actuality where the transmission of the legal title is supported by registration or the instant that the act of transferee is in his supremacy to transferal of the legal title to the transferor.

The promissory estoppels doctrine is characteristically described in two distinguished paragraphs. First one is that it is one of the primary principles that is engaged in all Courts of Equity, that in case parties have agreed to the separate and definite terms involved in legal results or forfeitures, then after with their own approval they enter in a negotiation course that has the outcome of leading any party to assume that rights taking place under the agreement will not impose, or kept secretly (Strong, 2016). An individual who may have imposed these rights will not be entitled to impose them in an inequitable state regarding the dealing that took place among the parties.  The second paragraph says that if an individual is holding contractual rights in opposition to others inducing their conduct those not in favour of those having such rights to suppose that these rights would not be imposed or will be kept secret for a certain period of time (Hayes, 2017). Those individuals will not be entitled by Court of Equity to impose right till the specified time.  (Halsbury’s Laws of Singapore vol 9(2) (LexisNexis, 2003) at para 110.277).

Express Trusts

Case: QBE Insurance (International) Ltd v Winterthur Insurance (Far East) Pte Ltd [2005] Brief fact

During 1956, Mr Gillet dropped school at the age of fifteen for the purpose of working at the farm of Mr Holt. His parents desired that he would have continued his school and completed his levels of O and A. Mr Holt never married and had no kids. He liked the enthusiasm of Mr Gillet and started his training and assured to pass the business to him. He made various promises to him all along his working time-period that in near future the farm will be passed to him and had prepared numerous wills stating him as a beneficiary. In regards to these assurances, Mr Gillet agreed to work on a low wage for long hours and did not continue his education or look for work. In 1995, on the other hand, a dispute was raised; Mr Holt discharged Mr Gillet and further changed his will to eliminate Mr Gillet. Mr Gillet was dependant on proprietary estoppel. The trial judge declined the claim affirming that since a will can be altered, further there was no irreversible promise subsequent Taylor v Dickens. Mr Gillet appealed.

Therefore the appeal was entitled, MrGillet was allowed to the absolute tenure of the farm and the compensated amount of £100,000 the omission from the rest of the agribusiness.

At the initial stage, it is significant to consider proprietary estoppel doctrine is not treated as subdivided into three or four watertight compartments. Both of the sides accepted this, and at the time of oral dispute in this court it continuously became clear that the worth of relevant promises might impact the issue of trust, that trust and detriment are mostly tangled, and that if or of not there is dissimilar requirement for mutual understanding might rely on the forming and understanding of other elements. In addition to this, the basic principle that equity is taken into consideration to avoid reprehensible demeanour permeates all the elements of the doctrine.

A special permission granted to do something on other’s property that, without the license, can be avoided legally or can increase legal actions in the trespass (Nel, 2014). The asset’ owner having obligations of statutory and legal rights to remain in good faith of beneficiaries, this is usually an authorized trust entity (Newman, 2015). A trust is brought in by a Settlement Deed implemented among the trustee and settler, generally, an expertise trustee authorized in the specified jurisdiction and transferring of assets in the trust while implementing Settlement Deed, settler must make a decision of these viable terms in the trust inclusive of

  • Who are the primary beneficiaries?
  • Whom to hire as a trust protector?
  • Which authorities will be retained by settlor?

Proprietary Estoppel

Further; in the determination of legal entitlement Reimbursement of household bills, furnishings, and home improvements is not considered (Wood, 2017).

Case: Burns v Burns [1984]

In the given case the plaintiff, Valerie Burns, had resided with the defendant for nineteen years but they never get married. The house in which they were residing had been purchased in the name of the defendant as they paid the purchase price in which there was no financial contribution by plaintiff making. However, she had acted as a homemaker as she was obliged for execution domestic duties. Although she had made monetary contributions in terms of household bills and refurbishing.

In the cited case; the court had provided judgement that initially plaintiff did not make any financial contribution for the purpose of acquisition to the property such as mortgage instalments thus as a consequence she does not hold any right related to beneficial entitlement for their family home. Cited decisions were affirmed by Lords Justice Waller, Fox and May in the Court of Appeal.

In the considered case Mrs Pettitt had inherited a house in which she resides with her husband. In-house; he spent £800 on upkeeps and renovation of the property.  Later she sold that house in 1961 and bought other property in her name alone.  In this sale transaction, some money was left from the sale so she gives the same to her husband for the purchase a car. They reside in the new house for 4 years and later they divorced. After divorce; her husband made the claim that he is having a beneficial interest in the cited property on the basis of improvements made by him to a new house.

In this case; the court had held that Mr Pettitt does not have any interest in the property because improvements made were not sufficient for the creation of an equitable interest in the property.


By considering the above-described provisions and analysis; conclusion can be drawn that with the death of Rose; George and Paul will be co-owners. Furthermore; Paul is not entitled to evict George as he has a legal interest in property due to his name on the title deed. It is because; in the considered case situation; Rose and Paul were having the agreement of joint tenancy due to which they are co-owners of the property. Further; George’s father sold their flat to generate funds for extension house of his son and money for the same was given to Rose and Paul. By considering this factor; George will be considered an occupier of the property and having equitable interest.


Books and Journals

Allen, W. T., & Kraakman, R. (2016). Commentaries and cases on the law of business organization. Wolters Kluwer law & business.

Hayes, M. S. (2017). Trust Law-Beneficiary's Interest in Open-Class Discretionary Trust Amounts to Mere Expectancy Despite Ascertainable Standard-Pfannenstiehl v. Pfannenstiehl. Suffolk UL Rev., 50, 367.

Nel, E. (2014). An interpretive account of unconscionability in trust law. Obiter, 35(1), 81-93.

Newman, A. (2015). Trust Law in the Twenty-First Century: Challenges to Fiduciary Accountability. Quinnipiac Prob. LJ, 29, 261.

Penner, J. (2016). The law of trusts. Oxford University Press.

Singer, J. W. (2013). Property as the Law of Democracy. Duke LJ, 63, 1287.

Smith, B. S. (2016). Statutory discretion or common law power? Some reflections on “veil piercing” and the consideration of (the value of) trust assets in dividing matrimonial property at divorce–Part One. Journal for Juridical Science, 41(2), 68-94.

Strong, S. I. (Ed.). (2016). Arbitration of Trust Disputes: Issues in National and International Law. Oxford University Press.

Wang, J. (2016). The Rise of Singapore As International Financial Centre: Political Will, Industrial Policy, and Rule of Law.

Wood, P. R. (2017). What happened to the trust in financial law?. Capital Markets Law Journal.


Chan Yuen Lan v See Fong Mun [2014] SGCA 36

Mascall v Mascall [1984] EWCA Civ 10

QBE Insurance (International) Ltd v Winterthur Insurance (Far East) Pte Ltd [2005] 1 SLR(R) 711.

Burns v Burns [1984] Ch 317, [1984] 1 All ER 244)

Pettitt v Pettitt [1970] AC 777 House of Lords

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