Have you ever wondered why a trust is called a trust? I have been asked this question on a few occasions. My answer, although generic as it sounds, is because you are trusting someone with your property. So recently I embarked on a journey to discover the etymology (bonus word of the day – means “history”) of the legal word trust. I have to say I was a little disappointed with my findings. I did not find an interesting story where someone with the last name Trust won a famous court battle like the landmark case Miranda v. Arizona, (which is why we are given a Miranda Warning when taken into custody) or Crummey v. Commissioner (there is a letter done with certain types of trusts called Crummey Notices). What I did learn is that a trust is called a trust because a person is entrusting their property to a third party to safe guard it based on their wishes. So my anecdotal definition is pretty right on!
However, I learned some fun facts about the word trust that may be useful to you if you are ever on Jeopardy. For instances, the word “trust” is found in the King James Version of the Bible 134 times. One of the most famous versus being “Trust in the lord with all thine heart, and lean not to your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge GOD and he will direct your path.” Proverb 3:5-6 King James Version. (http://www.ancient-hebrew.org/emagazine/010.html)
According to Merriam-Webster online, the first known use of the word was in the 13th century. It stems from the old Norse traust, from traustr. Additionally, it can be used both as a verb and a noun. Click here to see more..
Trust was first used in the legal context in the middle ages. Most notably, when a trust was used to help transfer land within the family because of the “burdensome feudal landholding rules,” which would allow for the land only to pass to blood descendants. So this allowed a husband to leave his land to his wife but transferring the land to a trustee who would hold the land in trust for the wife. The husband would have a life estate and upon his passing the trustee would transfer the land to the wife. It also provided a way for Franciscans (a group of people who vow a life of poverty, most notably the Order of Friars Minor) to own land by having a trustee own the land and give them a life estate. Click here to see full article.
As disappointing as this was not finding a “Mr. Trust”, I can at least now answer the question about why a trust is called a trust with confidence that my original, generic answer is the best answer possible. And if you are ever on Jeopardy, you can hope for a category titled Trust.
Contributed by an MH Phoenix Estate Planning Attorney.
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