Trust Deeds & Original Signatures

The value of an original artwork is determined by being able to prove who painted it, it’s condition and being able to establish your ownership. If it is a fake or has been stolen, its value could be lost even if you paid a lot of money for it.  A trust deed has no value if it isn’t an original as the trustee and the beneficiaries can’t actually prove what rights they do and no not have.  Also, if a trustee you cannot locate the original trust deed with the original signatures, the tax man will become interested and the trustee may have to pay lots of tax, stamp duty and legal fees to get it right.

To use an expression from the art world, it is all about the provenance.  Just as an owner of a painting needs an original signature, the trustee must be able to prove that the signatures on the document are original.  The painting must be an original as must the trust deed.  The painting needs to be unaltered, as must the trust deed (though in the case of the trust deed, the trustee needs to produce the original and all signed amendments).

If you cannot locate the trust deed with its original signatures – my advice is that you do everything that you can to find it.


Where should you look?  Start at the home and office of every person or company that has been a trustee or beneficiary, with every accountant, bank and lawyer with whom any trustee has had dealings, their computers and emails. etc.  The list is long!

If you can’t fined the original (and all the amendments – which collectively are the “original”) then the next best thing is to locate a signed and dated copy of the original.  Whether it is an electronic copy or a photocopy doesn’t matter.

But for the document to be acceptable as an “original” you will need to obtain an order of the Supreme Court declaring that those are the terms of the trust.  And the Court will not do that without a great deal of evidence/proof and may wish to know:-

  • Who had the original?
  • Why did they have it?
  • Who did they give it to?
  • Does that person still have it?

and then, even if you locate it, were there any amendments done to the trust deed?

As an end note, the Supreme Court may accept an unsigned copy – but that is very, very rare!

Moral to the story:-  original signatures on original documents are valuable.  Don’t lose them!

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