Knight v Knight

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Knight v Knight
Downton Hall Shropshire Morris 1880 edited.jpg
Downton Hall, Shropshire
Court Court of Chancery
Full case name Knight v Boughton
Decided 7 August 1840
Citation(s) (1840) 49 ER 58, (1840) 3 Beav 148
Case opinions
Lord Langdale MR
Precatory words, trust, gift, will

Knight v Knight (1840) 49 ER 58 is an English trusts law case, embodying a simple statement of the "three certainties" principle. This has the effect of determining whether assets can be disposed of in wills, or whether the wording of the will is too vague to allow beneficiaries to collect what appears on the face of the will to be theirs. The case has been followed in most common law jurisdictions.


Knight v Knight made a settlement on 26 April 1729, which passed the manors of Leintwardine and Downton, Herefordshire, including Croft Castle and Downton Castle, down the family line. The first grandson, of his second son, was Richard Payne Knight (a specialist on phallic imagery). He made a will on 3 June 1814, leaving the property to his brother, Thomas Andrew Knight (a horticulturalist), and to his male descendants. But if there were none, the property was to pass to the ‘next descendant in the direct male line of my late grandfather, Richard Knight of Downton…’ He had also said, however,

‘I trust to the liberality of my successors to reward any others of my old servants and tenants according to their deserts, and to their justice in continuing the estates in the male succession, according to the will of the founder of the family, my above-named grandfather.’

Thomas’ son died early, and Thomas died intestate. His daughter, Charlotte, had married Sir William Edward Rouse Boughton. Richard’s second brother, Edward, had a grandson named John Knight, who brought a claim alleging that Thomas had been bound to make a strict settlement in favour of the male line. William Boughton argued that no such trust had been created and the property had in fact gone to Thomas absolutely, and thus on to Charlotte and his family.


Lord Langdale MR held that the words of Richard’s will were not sufficiently certain, but that meant there had been an absolute gift to Thomas, who had taken the trust unfettered by any trust in favour of the male line. He formulated the test, known as the "three certainties". This test specified that, for a valid trust, there must be certainty of (1) intention (there must be intention to create a trust), (2) subject matter (the assets constituting the trust fund must be readily determinable) (3) objects (the people to whom the trustees are to owe a duty must be readily determinable). His judgment ran as follows.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ (1840) 3 Beav 148, 173-180