The difference between Legal and Beneficial Ownership

What is the difference between legal and beneficial ownership?

A legal owner is a person or persons who holds the legal title to the property under his, her or their name. You will know who the legal owner of a property is by looking at the register entries held by Land Registry.

However, the legal owner may not be the same as the beneficial owner. The beneficial owner is entitled to the benefit of a property (i.e. the actual value/ equity), even though the title refers to another.

For the most part, the legal and beneficial owners are the same.

However, sometimes they can be different and that is when the property is held on trust by a legal owner for another.

You can tell if a property is held on trust by something called a “Form A” restriction which appears on the title to the Property. The Form A restriction looks like this: “No disposition by a sole proprietor of the registered estate (except a trust corporation) under which capital money arises is to be registered unless authorised by an order of the court”. It is that entry that tells you that the beneficial ownership of a property is not the same as the legal ownership”.

A change to the legal ownership (otherwise known as a change in trustees) does not necessarily mean that the beneficial ownership has changed.

So who is entitled to the benefit of a property?

You cannot always tell from the register held at Land Registry who “really” owns a property. It may be that the property is held as “tenants in common” (and for an explanation what this means see our previous article here: https://www.meaby.co.uk/joint-tenant-tenants-common/#:~:text=Tenancy%20in%20common%20means%20that,her%20will%20or%20intestacy%20rules) or it may be that there is a more complicated trust arrangement, perhaps set out in the trust deed.

Accordingly, you cannot assume that you are able to identify the beneficial owner(s) of a property just by looking at the entries at the Land Registry.

If you are buying, or otherwise taking ownership of a property, your solicitor must examine the title at the Land Registry, and ensure that the Transfer Deed is drafted in such a way as to guarantee that you receive the property free from the interests of any beneficial owners.

If you have any questions regarding property and trust matters, please contact Meaby & Co at info@meaby.co.uk or on 020 7703 5034.