Re Keen [1937] 1 Ch 236

Key point

  • A sealed letter to be opened upon the testator’s passing constitutes sufficient communication of a secret trust


  • The will of K included clause 5 which instructed trustees to hold the sum of £10,000 ‘upon trust and disposed of by them among such person, persons or charities as may be notified by me to them or either of them during my lifetime’
  • Before the will was made, K gave one trustee a sealed envelope containing the name of a lady, which was not to be opened until after his death

Held (Court of Appeal)

  • The trust was void

Lord Wright MR

  • Even though the beneficiary’s was unknown to the trustee during the lifetime of the testator, the sealed letter was sufficient notification within the definition of ‘notified’ in clause 5
  • ‘To take a parallel, a ship which sails under sealed orders, is sailing under orders though the exact terms are not ascertained by the captain till later’
  • However, the half secret trust is void as clause 5 of the will could only refer to a trust that is to be created after the execution of the will, which would be void pursuant to Blackwell v Blackwell [1929] AC 318, which states that for a half secret trust to be valid, it must be created before the execution of the will


  • There was no reason why the trust could not then take effect as a full secret trust
Formality cases
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