Re Gulbenkian’s Settlements Trusts [1970] AC 508

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  • Calouste Gulbenkian, a wealthy Armenian oil businessman, made a settlement in 1929 that said the trustees should “in their absolute discretion” while his son Nubar Gulbenkian was still alive, give trust property to:
    • Nubar Sarkis Gulbenkian and any wife and his children or remoter issue for the time being in existence whether minors or adults and any person or persons in whose house or apartments or in whose company or under whose care or control or by or with whom the said Nubar Sarkis Gulbenkian may from time to time be employed or residing“.
  • It was argued this settlement was too uncertain to be enforced as a declaration of trust.


  • The House of Lords held for powers of appointment, objects were sufficiently certain if any given individual could be said to be in, or not in, the class.


“It is… the duty of the court by the exercise of its judicial knowledge and experience in the relevant matter, innate common sense and desire to make sense of the settlor’s or parties’ expressed intentions, however obscure and ambiguous the language that may have been used, to give a reasonable meaning to that language if it can do so without doing complete violence to it. The fact that the court has to see whether the clause is ‘certain’ for a particular purpose does not disentitle the court from doing otherwise than, in the first place, try to make sense of it.

(Lord Upjohn)

“The power is valid if it can be said with certainty whether any given individual is or is not a member of the class and does not fail simply because it is impossible to ascertain every member of the class.”

(Lord Wilberforce)

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