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Trusts law

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This module introduces you to the core concepts of trusts law. You’ll learn legal research, critical evaluation and collaboration skills and develop a wider range of skills too. You’ll also have an understanding of how trusts law affects individuals and impacts society, commerce, taxation, and the charity sector. By the end of the module, you’ll have a strong knowledge of core concepts.

What you will study

This is an innovative module, as the materials have been written to take a critical and contextual approach to the subject. This means that as well as learning the legal doctrine – the ‘black letter’ rules – you'll be given the thinking tools to unpick and question the bases of trusts law and the social fabric in which trusts exist. This module is structured into the following three blocks of study. Each block comprises three units.

Block 1: Foundations
The focus of this first block is on foundational principles and concepts. The first unit introduces ‘equity’ and the ‘fiduciary’, essential concepts in trusts law. You’ll also see how trusts developed through history, inspired by several cultures in different eras – Ancient Greece, Islamic Europe, Christianity, and the British Industrial Revolution.

The next two units ensure you know how trusts are managed and created. The theme of family wealth will begin to emerge here. Unit 2 exposes the relevant law with an example trust that is intended to support the settlor’s friends and family. Unit 3 turns towards the ‘three certainties’; the courts need to know whether there is intention to create a trust, with what property, and for whom. This unit highlights some formal requirements of transferring interests in property. Trusts can be created intentionally, but some are ‘implied by law’ to secure rights in the family home or capture criminal gains, for example.

Block 2: Abuse of trusts
In this block, you'll look at trusts through a lens of the ‘abuse of trusts’. Here, you'll be asked to challenge assumptions. The materials offer three perspectives. The first explores the law relating to those who steward trusts – the trustees. What happens when they put their own interests first, in breach of fiduciary and legal duties?

The second unit identifies how trusts can be set up to preserve and grow family fortunes. But trusts can also hide wealth offshore and minimise tax liabilities. Is it an abuse to use trusts to avoid tax? Or is that what they’re for?

The third unit introduces legal charity. This sector is regulated by the Charity Commission for England and Wales, which makes charitable trusts more difficult to abuse. Some controversies still arise. You’ve probably seen some in the news. Here, you’ll learn about the legal and regulatory framework for minimising scandals.

Block 3: Modern trusts
This final block considers the relationship between trusts and technology, society, and the environment. By the end of this block, we want to know what you think. What are your values? Do trusts match or contradict your values? Technology creates new types of property and alters how we interact with older forms of property. Unit 7 takes a snapshot of the relationship between trusts, property, and new technologies.

Unit 8 looks at how trusts shape society, namely through pension trusts. These trusts hold the property of hundreds of thousands of contributors. Pension trustees have the power to invest responsibly – or irresponsibly. You’ll learn about the law that governs these arrangements.

Unit 9 further considers this influence of trusts on society as a vehicle to manage the environment. This is a crucial issue in light of climate change. And trusts are at the centre of this debate. You’ll see how trusts can be used as a force for good in this area and how this use of trusts can be controversial.

Professional recognition

The Foundations of Legal Knowledge (FLK) route of the Bachelor of Laws (Honours) (LLB) will be accredited by the Council of Legal Education (Northern Ireland) as a recognised law degree, subject to time limits, exempting you from the academic stage of legal training to become a barrister or solicitors in Northern Ireland.

Completing the FLK route within the specified time limits will enable you to self certify that you have fulfilled the requirements set by the Bar Standards Board to be exempt from the academic stage of training if you wish to become a barrister in England and Wales.

Entry requirements

You must have successfully completed 60 credits of study from OU level 2 modules prior to studying this OU level 3 module. We recommend Public law (W211) and Contract law (W212).

If you are studying this module as part of the Bachelor of Laws (Honours) (LLB) (R81) or Bachelor of Laws (Honours) (graduate entry) (LLB) (R82), then you should begin your Stage 3 studies with Trusts law (W311) if you are following the Academic or Foundations of Legal Knowledge route. We recommend that you have completed all your Stage 2 studies before moving on to Stage 3 of R81/R82.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.

Preparatory work

It may be helpful to ensure you are familiar with basic legal concepts before starting this module. You will be prepared if you have studied other OU law modules. If you wish to start on an even firmer footing, some non-fiction books may help you to start thinking critically about law and justice. Besides biographies of judges and lawyers, you may find the following interesting:

  • Illan rua Wall, Freya Middleton, Sahir Shah, and CLAW (eds.) (2021) The Critical Legal Pocketbook. Counterpress: Oxford, U.K.
  • Michael J Sandel. (2010) Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? Penguin: London, UK.

Biographies of judges and lawyers can also make for good reading. If you enjoy fiction, CP Snow’s Strangers and Brothers series may be inspirational for those who want to practice law; the first few books, especially, look at the travails of an aspiring lawyer in the early twentieth century.

These sources are not compulsory, and you will not need to read them to pass, but they may enthuse you to learn about the law.

What's included

You will be provided with the module textbook Pearce & Stevens' Trusts and Equitable Obligations, Warren Barr and John Picton, Eighth edition, OUP 2022, and have access to a module website, which includes:

  • an eBook version of the module textbook
  • a week-by-week study planner
  • a module guide
  • module-specific module materials
  • audio and video content
  • assessment guide
  • assignment details and submission section
  • online tutorials and forums, and tutor support.

One of the key skills taught on this module is collaboration. To ensure that you can make the most of this group work, you will receive some in-unit training on conflict management and inclusivity.

Each unit includes interactive activities, which may involve independent research, consolidation of knowledge, and audio-visual materials. You’ll be directed towards online databases, the OU library’s digital resources, and carefully curated lists of optional reading materials.

Computing requirements

You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11) or macOS Ventura or higher.

Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.

To join in spoken conversations in tutorials, we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

Our module websites comply with web standards, and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

Our OU Study mobile app will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It’s not available on Kindle.

It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop, as described above.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

Throughout your module studies, you’ll get help and support from your assigned module tutor. They’ll help you by:

  • marking your assignments (TMAs) and providing detailed feedback for you to improve
  • guiding you to additional learning resources
  • providing individual guidance, whether that’s for general study skills or specific module content
  • facilitating online discussions between your fellow students in the dedicated module and tutor group forums.

Module tutors also run online tutorials throughout the module. Where possible, recordings of online tutorials will be made available to students. While these tutorials won’t be compulsory for you to complete the module, you’re strongly encouraged to take part.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box.

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying W311 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

Future availability

Trusts law starts once a year – in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2024. We expect it to start for the last time in October 2030.

Course work includes:

2 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
1 Interactive computer-marked assignment (iCMA)
End-of-module assessment