3 Categories of Private Trusts


Trusts fall in to two broad categories—private and charitable. The creation of charitable trusts will be discussed in Chapter Eight. The focus of this chapter is upon the different types of private trusts. This chapter is divided into two parts. Part I introduces expressed trusts. These are trusts that are expressly created by the settlor in a written instrument. In this part, two types of private expressed trusts will be compared—inter vivos trusts and testamentary trusts. Inter vivos trusts are established during the settlor’s lifetime, and are a part of the nonprobate system. To the contrary, a testamentary trust is created by will. The testamentary trust does not come into existence until the will is probated. Part II consists of a discussion of trusts that are created by operation of law. These are really implied trusts that are established by courts. Therefore, those trusts do not have to conform to the requirements needed to create valid trusts. The implied trusts that will be discussed are the constructive trust, resulting trust, and the honorary trust.


3.1 Private Expressed Trusts



3.1.1. Inter vivos Trusts vs. Testamentary Trusts



The focus of this book is on testamentary trusts. Thus, the manner in which testamentary trusts are created was discussed in Chapter Two. A basic knowledge of the law governing inter vivos trusts is helpful because those types of trusts are one of the most commonly used will substitutes. The property in both the inter vivos and the testamentary trusts is not distributed to the third party beneficiary until after the settlor’s death. Inter vivos trusts are created during the settlor’s lifetime. They can be revocable or irrevocable. If the inter vivos trust does not involve an interest in real property, it may be created orally. The testamentary trust can only be created by a written instrument that satisfies the Wills Act. The moment the inter vivos trust is created the beneficiaries become equitable owners of the trust corpus. The beneficiaries of the testamentary trust do not receive any interest in the trust property until after the death of the settlor. An inter vivos trust may be created by a declaration of trust or a deed of trust. In order to create the inter vivos trust by a declaration of trust, the settlor must declare that he holds certain property in trust and manifest an intent to hold the property as such. When creating a trust by declaration, the settlor declares that she is the trustee of the property for the benefit of herself during her lifetime and that the remainder of the trust property will be distributed to a third party when she dies. The third party will be receiving property from the trust and not the will. While she is alive, the settlor has the power to revoke the trust and the right to the trust income. Since the settlor is also the trustee, she has the right to manage the trust property. The beneficiary receives a vested interest in the trust property until it is revoked. In some cases, the settlor gives up her control and makes the inter vivos trust irrevocable. An irrevocable inter vivos trusts looks a lot like a testamentary trust. The testamentary trust is revocable until the testator dies. The settlor may also establish an inter vivos trust by a deed of trust. A deed of trust transaction involves three parties—the settlor, the trustee, and the beneficiary. The settlor transfers the property to be held in trust to a third party who is to act as the trustee. When the settlor dies, the trustee distributes the property to the beneficiaries or hold it in further trust. While the settlor is alive, she is the only person that is reaping the benefits of the trust. One of the most litigated issues is the nature of the interest that the beneficiary has in a revocable inter vivos trust.


Cate-Schweyen v. Cate, 15 P.3d 467


Justice JAMES C. NELSON delivered the Opinion of the Court.


¶1 This is an appeal from an Order and Rationale entered by the Eleventh District Court, Flathead County, on December 14, 1998, denying Personal Representative JoAnn Cate’s (JoAnn) motion for summary judgment and granting a motion for summary judgment in favor of Shannon Cate Schweyen, individually, and as Conservator of Sara Cate, a minor (collectively referred to herein as Shannon). The Order provided that JoAnn would convey various assets to Shannon and take other actions with respect thereto, and also awarded Shannon her costs.


¶2 We reverse and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.


¶3 On appeal, JoAnn raises the following issues:


1. Whether the District Court erred in finding that the 1988 document represents a testamentary trust as opposed to an inter vivos trust which failed for lack of delivery of the document or the trust property to the trustee.


2. Whether the District Court erred in finding that a testamentary trust is not subject to the homestead allowance, exempt property, family allowance, rights of creditors, elective share of the surviving spouse, and to expenses of administration.


We conclude that the first issue is dispositive, and therefore decline to address the second issue.




¶4 The focus of this controversy is a handwritten document drafted by Jerome J. Cate (Jerry), a practicing attorney in Montana for nearly 30 years and now deceased, entitled “Irrevocable Trust Reserving Income For Life.” The document was signed by Jerry and dated January 2, 1988. Jerry died intestate on April 4, 1995.


¶5 The trust document purported to “sell, assign and convey” various mineral interests, which Jerry had inherited from his mother and her brother, to a trust for the benefit of his daughters from his first marriage, Shannon, Kristin, and Sara, with Shannon serving as trustee. Jerry reserved a life interest for himself, and then, upon his death, the three daughters would receive a term of years interest for 20 years, and then the corpus would be distributed outright to the daughters or their heirs pursuant to a “per stirpes” declaration. The trust document apparently was drafted by Jerry in anticipation of his remarriage to the Appellant, JoAnn, in February of 1988. The document reflects this, providing that “bearing in mind specifically that I intend to marry again on the 14th of February, 1988, [I] do hereby sell, assign and convey …” The undisputed facts show that Jerry never transferred or conveyed the named mineral interests to the trust or otherwise delivered the trust property to Shannon, the named trustee.


¶6 At the time of his death, JoAnn, in her capacity as personal representative of Jerry’s estate, refused to convey the alleged trust property upon the request of the daughters. Consequently, Shannon, acting individually and as conservator for her youngest sister, Sara, filed a petition in September of 1997, requesting that the District Court declare that either an express or resulting trust in the mineral interests existed. (The eldest daughter, Kristin, is not a party to this action.) At that time, the handwritten document had not been located; rather, a 1993 bill of sale document executed by Jerry indicated the existence of the trust.


¶7 The 1993 bill of sale was executed to convey Jerry’s assets to a “joint revocable inter vivos trust” which he drafted in 1990. The bill of sale provided: “This Bill of Sale and Assignment does not include any mineral interests owned by Jerome J. Cate, a/k/a Jerry Joseph Cate, which have heretofore been placed in trust for the benefit of Shannon and Sara Cate.” Kristin’s name was apparently omitted from this reference due to a rift between her and Jerry. Thus, Shannon pursued the legal theory that the referenced trust was testamentary in nature, and therefore JoAnn, as personal representative of Shannon’s father’s estate, must fund the testamentary trust with the mineral interests owned by Jerry at the time of his death.


¶8 Once the 1988 trust document was found, Shannon did not alter her legal theory, maintaining that the handwritten trust document was testamentary as well.


¶9 In response to Shannon’s petition, JoAnn contended that the handwritten document was not a valid testamentary trust. She argued that the document intended to create an inter vivos trust, which Jerry never executed by conveying or otherwise transferring the interests to the trust or Shannon. Therefore, according to JoAnn, the handwritten trust document is unenforceable, and the identified mineral interests should be included within Jerry’s estate.


¶10 Both parties moved for summary judgment. Following a July 29, 1998 hearing, the District Court denied JoAnn’s motion for summary judgment and granted summary judgment in favor of Shannon.


¶11 The District Court concluded that to qualify as a testamentary disposition, the document need only comply with Montana’s statutory requirements for a will. The court concluded that the handwritten trust document was testamentary. The court stated that “[t]he fact that Decedent chose to reserve income for life when he created the trust is not inconsistent with an intention to create a testamentary disposition.” The court further concluded that the “evidence is clear, convincing and overwhelming that the intent of Decedent Jerome J. Cate was to establish a testamentary trust with his daughters to be the beneficiaries thereof.” The court also ruled that “Respondent’s contention that the instrument is a failed attempt to create an inter vivos transfer of the property is belied by the holographic nature of the instrument.”


¶12 JoAnn filed a motion to amend the order so that it would reflect that the subject trust properties, if indeed testamentary, should first be subject to probate, meaning the property potentially would be reduced by various statutory allowances and exemptions. This motion was deemed denied.


¶13 JoAnn appealed.




¶14 This Court reviews an order granting summary judgment de novo, using the same rule 56, M.R. Civ. P., criteria applied by the district court. Se Calcaterra v. Montana Resources, 1998 MT 187, ¶9, 289 Mont. 424, ¶9, 962 P.2d 590, ¶9. This Court looks to the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions on file, and affidavits to determine the existence or nonexistence of a genuine issue of material fact. See Erker v. Kester, 1999 MT 231, ¶17, 286 Mont. 123, ¶17, 988 P.2d 1221, ¶17.


¶15 Here, no material facts remain in dispute. Rather, both parties contend that they are, respectively, entitled to judgment as a matter of law, in light of the District Court’s conclusion that the trust document in question was testamentary, rather than inter vivos. As with the judicial interpretation and construction of any instrument, the question of whether any particular language creates an express trust, given the circumstances under which the trust was executed, is a question of law for the court to decide. See Estate of Bolinger (1997), 284 Mont. 114, 118, 943 P.2d 981, 983 (citation omitted). Thus, accepting the facts found by the District Court, we will proceed to determine if either party was entitled to judgment as a matter of law.




Whether the District Court erred in finding that the 1988 document represents a testamentary trust as opposed to an inter vivos trust which failed for lack of delivery of the document of the trust property to the trustee.


¶16 JoAnn argues that the trust document in dispute is inter vivos, rather than testamentary, and is therefore unenforceable because no property was ever transferred or conveyed to it by her deceased husband, Jerry, as required by law. Thus, the named trust property should remain in Jerry’s estate, and she should be entitled to judgment as a matter of law.


¶17 Shannon contends that the District Court’s conclusion that the trust document was testamentary is correct, and therefore the trust is valid because her father intended that the trust would remain “dry” until his death at which time his estate would transfer the mineral interests. Alternatively, Shannon argues that even if an express trust technically cannot be enforced, then an involuntary trust should be imposed to achieve an equitable result based on her father’s clear intent expressed in the document.


¶18 The theories set forth by both parties comport with statutory law governing creation of trusts in Montana. Under § 72-33-203, MCA, a trust is created “only if there is trust property.” Under § 72-33-201(2), MCA, a valid inter vivos trust requires that the owner transfer the subject property to a trustee during the owner’s lifetime. In contrast, under subsection (3), a valid trust may be created when the property is identified as a “testamentary transfer” to a trustee. Under § 72-33-216, MCA, a court may exercise its equitable powers and impose a “resulting trust” to fulfill the manifest intent of the trustor if the trust fails to fulfill this intent.


¶19 Further, Montana’s statutory requirements generally comport with the Restatement (Second) of Trusts (1959), which often has been relied on by this Court, and has been presented as persuasive authority by the parties here. See, e.g., McCormick v. Brevig, 1999 MT 86, ¶63, 294 Mont. 144, ¶63, 980 P.2d 603, ¶63. See also § 72-33-201, MCA, Official Comments; Restatement (Second) of Trusts § 17 (identifying five methods of creating trusts similar to subsection (1) through (5) under § 72-33-201, MCA).


¶20 As a preliminary matter, we shall first dispense with the fundamentally flawed argument that the trust document at issue was testamentary. We conclude that as a matter of law the trust document clearly and convincingly expresses an intent to create an inter vivos trust that would take effect during Jerry’s lifetime, notwithstanding whatever alleged misunderstandings or intentions the he may have expressed or exercised at a later date.


¶21 Our examination of the construction of the trust in question here is guided by several steadfast rules that were recently consolidated in this Court’s decision in Estate of Bolinger (1997), 284 Mont. 114, 120-22, 943 P.2d 981, 985. First, we must seek out the trustor’s “intent,” so far as possible. Second, we must look to the language of the trust agreement itself to ascertain this intent. Third, the words used in the instrument are to be taken in their ordinary and grammatical sense unless a clear intention to use them in another sense can be ascertained. Finally, the burden of proof to establish the existence of a trust-or in this case a particular “kind” of trust-is upon the party who claims it, and must be founded on evidence which is unmistakable, clear, satisfactory, and convincing. See Bolinger (1997), 284 Mont. at 120-22, 943 P.2d at 985. (citations and internal quotations omitted).


¶22 Removing superfluous verbiage, the handwritten document, identified as an “Irrevocable Trust Reserving Income For Life” provides:


I Jerome J. Cate … do hereby sell, assign and convey all of my oil gas and mineral interests … to my daughter, Shannon Cate, to hold in trust for her benefit and the benefit of her sister Kristin Cate and her sister Sara Cate, as Shannon in her sole discretion shall see fit, for a period of time twenty years subsequent to the date of my death, at which time she shall distribute those mineral interests in equal shares … reserving, however, to myself the income from this trust for my lifetime.


¶23 Shannon argues at length that the foregoing writing technically satisfies statutory requirements for a holographic will, and is therefore “testamentary.” See §§ 72-2-522 and 531, MCA (providing rules for holographic wills and testamentary additions to trusts).


¶24 A testamentary trust, however, not only must comply with the statutory requirements for a will, but also must take effect “only upon the testator’s death.” See Black’s Law Dictionary at 1475 (6th ed.1990); Restatement (Second) of Trusts § 26, Comment a., and § 56, Comment b. (stating that in order for a disposition to be “testamentary,” the owner of property who transfers property or deed of conveyance to trustee inter vivos must manifest an intention that the conveyance shall not be effective until his death). Further, in order for a document to be deemed “testamentary,” generally, it also must be revocable, and the settlor or trustor must retain the property under his control during his life. See Black’s Law Dictionary at 1474 (6th ed.1990). Although disputed by Shannon, these general definitions actually concur with the Restatement definition which she recites in her brief: “[a] testamentary disposition of property is a disposition to take effect upon the death of the person making the disposition and as to which he has substantially entire control until his death.” Restatement (Second) of Trusts § 53, Comment a. This Restatement section adds that such a disposition is testamentary “whether made by a will or a document which purports to be a will or made by a transaction inter vivos, as by a deed, unsealed writing or parole declaration or transfer.”


¶25 Thus, in order to be construed as “testamentary,” a trust document must first and foremost express a clear and unmistakable intent that the trust will not take effect until the testator’s death. Following this rule generally requires that the trustor retains the power of revocation, and expresses no intention to pass a present interest. See In re Gasparovich’s Estate (1971(, 158 Mont. 21, 23-24, 487 P.2d 1148, 1150 stating “common sense” rule that the true test of the character of an instrument is not the testator’s realization that it is a will, but his intention to create a revocable disposition of his property, to accrue and take effect only upon his death, and passing no present interest). Therefore, a “testamentary” disposition is usually incompatible with a trust established by a trustor who retains a life interest, as a beneficiary of the trust, although a new beneficiary or beneficiaries acquire an interest upon the trustor’s death. See generally Restatement (Second) of Trusts §§ 56, Comment f. and 57; 76 Am. Jur. 2d §§ 33 and 88 (1992) (stating that a “reservation of a life estate or interest does not make a disposition in trust a testamentary disposition”).


¶26 Suffice to say, to construe the foregoing document as “testamentary” would require an alchemist’s crucible. While not nimbly drafted, the document nevertheless expresses a clear and convincing intent that it would take effect inter vivos, or during Jerry’s lifetime. Rather than anticipating a future testamentary transfer by such common language as “give, devise, and bequeath,” the transfer is that of an ordinary, present conveyance: “I … do hereby sell, assign and convey …” Further, there is no preceding or subsequent qualification of this transfer language by other language such as “upon my death” or “when I die” or “in the event of my death.” Rather, the “twenty years subsequent to the date of my death” language which appears later merely serves as a fixed termination date-rather than a commencement date-for the trust itself. Although Jerry did in fact retain legal title over the trust property, he did not name himself as trustee; rather, this duty is expressly accorded to his daughter, Shannon, meaning the document expresses a clear intent that Jerry planned to divest himself of legal title over the named trust property and thereby transfer a present interest. In turn, the “income from this trust for my lifetime” language indicates that the trust would come into existence during Jerry’s lifetime, and he would become the trust’s first beneficiary. Finally, the document itself is identified as “irrevocable,” which in light of the accompanying language indicates an unmistakable intent to pass legal title to the trust during Jerry’s lifetime, and thereby remove the property from his estate.


¶27 Taken as a whole, the evidence that the trust document is testamentary does not rise to the level of being unmistakable, clear, satisfactory, or convincing. Rather, the opposite is true: the trust document convincingly displays all the attributes of an inter vivos transaction that the trustor intended would take place at the time the document was drafted or soon thereafter. We therefore hold that the District Court erred in concluding that Jerry Cate’s handwritten trust document was testamentary.


¶28 Pursuant to JoAnn’s summary judgment argument that was denied by the District Court, we next turn to the issue of “delivery” to determine whether the trust in question was ever made legally effective, or instead remained a “phantom” or “dry” trust and therefore unenforceable. See generally McCormick v. Brevig, 1999 MT 86, 294 Mont. 144, 980 P.2d 603.


¶29 This Court has concluded that, under the common law, in order to establish an inter vivos trust, there must be a transfer of property. McCormick, ¶63 (quoting Restatement (Second) of Trusts § 17 and 32). We quoted from the Restatement of Trusts that “if the owner of property makes a conveyance inter vivos of the property to another person to be held by him in trust for a third person and the conveyance is not effective to transfer the property, no trust of the property is created.” McCormick, ¶63 (quoting § 32). See also Am. Jur. 2d § 49 (1992) (stating general rule that a separation of legal title and equitable ownership of the trust property is necessary to the formation of an express trust); Am. Jur. 2d § 52 (1992) (stating general rule that in order to create a valid trust, there must be an actual conveyance or transfer of property).


¶30 The undisputed facts clearly reveal that Jerry never delivered, or conveyed, or otherwise attempted to transfer the identified trust property to the named trustee, his daughter Shannon, or to the trust itself with or without her knowledge.


¶31 Further, the trust document itself is insufficient to serve as an instrument of conveyance. Although the property is clearly identified in the handwritten document, we concluded under the similar circumstances described in McCormick that in order for a trust document to serve as an instrument of conveyance, the person executing the trust document must subsequently redeliver, confirm, ratify, or adopt the transfer. See McCormick, ¶66 (requiring “some further indication of the grantor’s intent to divest himself of valuable real property” and concluding that express trust was invalid as a matter of law because there was “no proper conveyance into the trust of trust property”).


¶32 The reasons for Jerry’s omissions, as JoAnn indicates in her brief, are known only to Jerry. That the undisputed facts clearly show that Jerry intended to create some form of a trust that would benefit only his three daughters unfortunately does not alter the fact that he never took the affirmative legal steps necessary for the trust to become enforceable as either a testamentary or inter vivos trust.


¶33 Thus, we have two options, pursuant to our de novo review: to either agree with JoAnn and conclude that no trust existed, and therefore the property should remain in Jerry’s estate, or that an involuntary or “resulting” trust, one that would carry out Jerry’s intent, should be enforced, which Shannon argues would achieve a correct, equitable result. We conclude, however, that the underlying “resulting trust” equitable doctrine is entirely incongruous with the factual circumstances presented here.


¶34 An involuntary trust is a creature of equity, where a court imposes or creates a trust to work an equitable result. See Eckart v. Hubbard (1979), 184 Mont. 320, 326, 602 P.2d 988, 991. Under § 72-33-216, MCA, a court may exercise its equitable powers and impose a “resulting trust” to fulfill the manifest intent of the trustor if the trust fails to fulfill this intent. However, as a matter of law, such a “resulting trust” creates an equitable reversionary interest whereby the original transferor or his heirs become the beneficiary of the trust. See Eckart v. Hubbard (1979), 184 Mont. at 327, 602 P.2d at 992. See also Restatement (Second) of Trusts § 404 and Chapter 12 Introductory Note (stating that the beneficial interest “springs back or results to the person who made the disposition or to his estate, and the person holding the property holds it upon a resulting trust for him or his estate”). To illustrate, Jerry could have created a trust as specified in his handwritten document and properly transferred the property. Upon his death, if the beneficiaries did not survive him and left no issue, the trust would have “failed” pursuant to its own terms because no subsequent beneficiaries were named. See § 72-33-216, MCA,. As an equitable remedy, the “resulting” remainder would revert to Jerry’s estate, although this specific transfer of interest was not expressed in the trust document.


¶35 Thus, even if we were to impose a resulting trust, as Shannon argues, the property would nevertheless revert to Jerry’s estate. This result is no different, therefore, than if we concluded that no trust exists. See Eckart v. Hubbard (1979), 184 Mont. at 328, 602 P.2d at 992 (describing identical circumstances and concluding that trust property must be returned to trustor’s estate).


¶36 The other type of a involuntary trust, the constructive trust, which is based on the equitable remedy of unjust enrichment-i.e., the plaintiff brings a suit to enforce a constructive trust seeking to recover specific property-was not argued by Shannon, and is therefore not available as an equitable remedy. See § 72-33-219, MCA (providing that a constructive trust arises when a person holding title to property is subject to an equitable duty to convey it to another on the ground that the person holding title would be unjustly enriched if he were permitted to retain it).


¶37 Accordingly, we conclude that the inter vivos trust document at issue failed due to the lack of a transfer of property to the trust during Jerry Cate’s lifetime, and therefore no enforceable trust existed. Based on this conclusion, we hold that the District Court erred when it determined that Shannon was entitled to judgment as a matter of law, and denied JoAnn’s motion for summary judgment.


¶38 This matter is reversed and remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.


Chief Justice J.A. TURNAGE, dissenting.


¶39 I respectfully dissent from the majority opinion.


¶40 The District Court concluded that the handwritten trust document executed by Jerome Cate met the requirements of the Montana Statute of Wills and would be valid as a holographic will. It further concluded that JoAnn Cate had produced no persuasive authority that an otherwise valid testamentary disposition which was never revoked is invalid simply because the testator chose to designate the disposition as “irrevocable.”


¶41 Under long-settled rules of construction of testamentary instruments, including trusts, the testator’s intent controls. See, e.g., Estate of Bolinger (1997), 284 Mont. 114, 120-21, 943 P.2d 981, 985. On this record, Jerome Cate’s intent is crystal clear-to create a testamentary trust for his daughters. The reason for that intent is also clear-to pass on to his blood descendants mineral interests which he himself had inherited from his mother and her brother as part of his family legacy. If the majority cannot discern that intent, then their vision is fogged.


¶42 I would affirm the decision of the District Court.


Justice W. WILLIAM LEAPHART, dissenting.


¶43 I join in the dissent of Chief Justice Turnage and add the following considerations as bearing upon my conclusion that the District Court was correct in concluding that this document was a valid holographic testamentary trust:


¶44 1. The author, in typical precatory and testamentary fashion, characterizes himself as being of “sound and disposing mind[.]”


¶45 2. Cate was cognizant that he was about to marry a woman whom he had known for less than a month and that by his marriage to her he would have stepchildren whom he barely knew.


¶46 3. The language “twenty years subsequent to the date of my death,” indicates both a commencement date (date of death) and a fixed termination date, twenty years thereafter.


¶47 4. Cate, an experienced attorney, knew how to fund an inter vivos trust but did not do so here.


¶48 5. Cate used a testamentary reference to the distribution of the mineral interests to his daughters “or their heirs per stirpes[.]”


¶49 6. Cate died leaving no formal last will and testament.


¶50 7. The beneficiaries of the testamentary trust were his daughters; his natural heirs and expected recipients of the mineral interests he had inherited from his mother and uncle.


¶51 8. As typical with holographic documents, the document is handwritten and not notarized.


¶52 Although there are certainly other provisions in the document which lend themselves to a contrary interpretation, when the document is read as a whole and in light of the circumstances under which it was executed, it is clear to me that Cate intended it to be testamentary in nature. Accordingly, I respectfully dissent.


Johnson v. Kotyck, 90 cal. Rptr.2d 99




Is a beneficiary of an inter vivos trust entitled to receive trust accountings while the trustor is under the care and custody of a court-appointed conservator? We conclude that the beneficiary is not entitled to an accounting for a trust that remains revocable despite the infirmity of the trustor and the ensuing conservatorship.




Elisabeth Frudenfeld is the trustor and original trustee of an inter vivos trust created on December 7, 1987 (the Trust). On August 30, 1996, the superior court appointed a professional conservator to manage Frudenfeld’s affairs after finding that Frudenfeld is unable to care for herself. The court also appointed legal counsel to represent Frudenfeld in all conservatorship proceedings. The successor trustee of the Trust is respondent Karla Kotyck, one of Frudenfeld’s daughters.


The Trust and its April 9, 1992 amendment contain the following clause regarding revocation: “This declaration of trust, and the trusts evidenced thereby, may be revoked at any time by the Trustor, during the lifetime of the Trustor, by the Trustor delivering written notice of revocation to the Trustee.” The Trust also provides that it shall become irrevocable upon the death of the trustor.


A petition was brought under Probate Code section 17200 by appellant Laurie Cook Johnson, Frudenfeld’s daughter and a Trust beneficiary. Johnson asked the probate court (1) to order the trustee to prepare a report and accounting for the Trust and (2) to review the trustee’s activities. Trustee Kotyck demurred to Johnson’s petition, maintaining that Johnson has no right to receive accountings or to question the trustee’s actions with regard to the Trust. The probate court sustained Kotyck’s demurrer to the petition without leave to amend and dismissed the petition with prejudice. This timely appeal followed.




Trial Court’s Jurisdiction


A trust beneficiary may petition the probate court regarding matters affecting the internal affairs of a trust, unless the trust instrument expressly withholds authority to proceed. Among other powers, the court has jurisdiction (1) to interpret the terms of the trust, (2) to determine the existence or nonexistence of any power, privilege, duty or right, (3) to instruct the trustee, and (4) to compel the trustee to report information about the trust or account to the beneficiary. (§ 17200, subds. (b)(1), (2), (6), (7); Estate of Heggstad (1993) 16 Cal. App. 4th 943, 951-952, 20 Cal. Rptr.2d 433 ).


The probate court’s jurisdiction extends to the type of trust involved in this appeal. “Section 17200 makes no distinction between inter vivos trusts (i.e., living trusts) and testamentary trusts (i.e., trusts created by a will). Further, case law supports a probate court’s jurisdiction under section 17200 to consider petitions regarding inter vivos trusts [citation], and nothing in the statutory scheme indicates any legislative intent to restrict the jurisdiction of the probate court to only those matters arising after the death of a trustor.” Conservatorship of Irvine (1995) 40 Cal. App.4th 1334, 1342, 47 Cal. Rptr.2d 587)


3. Rights of a Beneficiary of an Inter Vivos Trust


Appellant Johnson asks this court to determine only one disputed point of law, to wit: Does the Probate Code give Johnson the right to receive trust accountings from her sister Kotyck, so long as their mother is alive and her affairs are being administered by a conservator? The short answer is “No” and the explanation follows.


Johnson agrees at the outset that the trustee of a revocable trust generally has no duty to report or account to the trust beneficiaries and that the beneficiaries have no right to receive such accountings. (See § 16964). However, she goes on to argue that “since the settlor has been declared incompetent, she no longer has the power to revoke.” Johnson reasons that the beneficiaries of the Trust obtained the right to an accounting once Mrs. Frudenfeld became a conservatee, because “No one has the power to revoke” and Johnson’s rights to take from the trust are now vested. As we shall see, it is untrue that no one has the power to revoke the conservatee’s inter vivos trust.


Under the Probate Code, the legal rights of a conservatee—including the right to revoke a trust—pass to the conservator, under the close scrutiny of the superior court. The conservator may petition the court for an order “Exercising the right of the conservatee (i) to revoke a revocable trust or (ii) to surrender the right to revoke a revocable trust ….” (§ 2580, subd.(b)(11)) The court is, in this situation, “the conservatee’s decisionmaking surrogate” because “[i]n essence the statute permits the court to substitute its judgment for that of a conservatee.” Conservatorship of Hart (1991) 228 Cal. App.3d 1244, 1250, 279 Cal. Rptr. 249). The court must satisfy itself that it is “fully and fairly informed” about the proposed exercise of the conservatee’s legal rights. Id. at p. 1254, 279 Cal. Rptr. 249).


The only limitation on the court’s ability to authorize the revocation of a conservatee’s revocable trust is if the trust instrument “(i) evidences an intent to reserve the right of revocation exclusively to the conservatee, (ii) provides expressly that a conservator may not revoke the trust, or (iii) otherwise evidences an intent that would be inconsistent with authorizing or requiring the conservator to exercise the right to revoke the trust.” (§ 2580, subd.(b)(11). We have examined the Trust in this case and all of its amendments. There is nothing in the Trust or its amendments which expressly or impliedly prevents the conservator from revoking the Trust or which reserves the right of revocation exclusively to Frudenfeld. Thus, the limitations listed above do not apply here.


Johnson relies primarily on section 15800, which postpones the rights of trust beneficiaries “during the time that a trust is revocable and the person holding the power to revoke the trust is competent.” Contrary to Johnson’s reading of it, this provision does not mean that a trust automatically becomes irrevocable when the trustor becomes a conservatee. The Law Revision Commission comment to section 15800 explains: “This section has the effect of postponing the enjoyment of rights of beneficiaries of revocable trusts until the death or incompetence of the settlor or other person holding the power to revoke the trust.” (Italics added.) It is clear from section 15800 that a conservator, working together with the superior court as the conservatee’s decisionmaking surrogate, is a “person holding the power to revoke the trust.”


The reading of section 15800 proposed by Johnson would undermine the statutory scheme relating to revocable trusts. So long as a trust is revocable, a beneficiary’s rights are merely potential, rather than vested. The beneficiary’s interest could evaporate in a moment at the whim of the trustor or, in the case of a conservatorship, at the discretion of the court. Giving a beneficiary with a contingent, nonvested interest all the rights of a vested beneficiary is untenable. We cannot confer on the contingent beneficiary rights that are illusory, which the beneficiary only hopes to have upon the death of the trustor, but only if the trust has not been previously revoked and the beneficiary has outlived the trustor. For this reason, we conclude that section 15800 does not give a beneficiary such as Johnson any right to a trust accounting so long as a conservator retains authority under section 2580 to have the trust revoked and to abrogate Johnson’s interest in the trust proceeds.


Johnson’s primary concern is that the court-appointed professional conservator may be doing an inadequate job of supervising Frudenfeld’s estate, including the Trust, thereby enabling Kotyck to engage in mismanagement or misappropriation of Trust assets. Mistrustful of the conservator’s abilities or diligence, Johnson wants to oversee Frudenfeld’s estate herself to ensure proper Trust management.


There are two ways to address Johnson’s concerns, both falling within the Probate Code’s conservatorship provisions.


First, the conservator is accountable to Johnson and is responsible for preventing the misappropriation of the conservatee’s assets. The conservatorship statutes and the substituted judgment statutes in the Probate Code are designed to protect the conservatorship estate for the benefit of the conservatee and for the benefit “of the persons who will ultimately receive it from the conservatee.” Conservatorship of Hart, supra. 228 Cal. App.3d at p. 1253, 279 Cal. Rptr. 249). In other words, the conservatorship is designed to protect persons like Johnson as well as Frudenfeld. If the conservator is concerned that estate’s assets are being wasted or misappropriated, the conservator is empowered to ask the court to compel “a person who has possession or control of property in the estate of the ward or conservatee to appear before the court and make an account under oath of the property and the person’s actions with respect to the property.” § 2619, subd. (a).) Kotyck, as trustee of Frudenfeld’s inter vivos trust, is a person in control of property in the conservatorship estate and must therefore account for her actions with respect to the Trust property.


The Probate Code requires that the conservator account for the property of the conservatee. The conservator must file an inventory and appraisal of the conservatee’s estate within 90 days after the initial appointment. (§ 2610.) The conservator must thereafter account to the court, showing receipts, disbursements, transactions and the balance of property on hand. (§ 2610.). Failure to account subjects the conservator to the risk of punishment for contempt. (§ 2629.) When an account is filed, “any relative” of the conservatee may file written objections to the account. (§ 2622.) Thus, there is already a mechanism in place through which Johnson, as the daughter of the conservatee, can monitor the outflow from Frudenfeld’s estate and ensure the diligent performance of the conservator’s duties by simply scrutinizing the conservator’s accountings and objecting when appropriate. Further, if the conservator breaches its fiduciary duty to Frudenfeld by allowing her estate to be frittered away, the conservator is chargeable for “[a]ny loss or depreciation in value of the estate,” with interest. (§§ 2101, 2401.3.) In other words, the conservator ignores misappropriations of the conservatee’s property at its own peril.


During oral argument, Johnson asserted that the provisions of section 2585 “immunize” the conservator from liability for wrongdoing. This is not correct. Section 2585 only states that the conservator is not required to propose any action under section 2585; i.e., the conservator is not required, for example, to propose the creation or revocation of a trust for the conservatee, or to enter a contract on behalf of the conservatee, or to provide gifts to charity, relatives, or friends on behalf of the conservatee. § 2580, suds. (a)(3), (b)(4), (5), (11).) However, Johnson as an “interested person” may file a petition of her own in the probate court under section 2580 to compel the conservator to take action. (See Cal. Law Revision Com. com., reprinted at 52 West’s Ann. Probate Code, foll. § 2585 (1991), p. 829[: “The remedy for a person who believes that some action should be taken by the conservator under this article is to petition under Section 2580 for an order requiring the conservator to take such action with respect to estate planning or making gifts as is set out in the petition.”].) section 2585 does not immunize the conservator from wrongdoing or permit the conservator to look the other way if the conservatee’s assets are being misappropriated by others.


Second, the conservatorship statutes provide a direct means for a prospective beneficiary like Johnson to investigate wrongdoing by a person holding the conservatee’s property. Section 2616 authorizes the filing of a petition concerning a conservatee’s assets by an “interested person, including persons having only an expectancy or prospective interest in the estate.” (§ 2616, subd. (a)(3).) Johnson is an interested person within this definition. If she chooses, Johnson may charge that Kotyck “has wrongfully taken, concealed, or disposed of property of the ward or conservatee.” (§ 2616, subd. (b)(1).) The court may then order that Kotyck answer interrogatories or appear in court to be examined under oath, or both. (§§ 2616, 2617.) In particular, a trustee who has wrongfully misappropriated the funds of a ward is subject to citation and examination under section 2616. (In re Ochoa (1942) 50 Cal.App.2d 457, 458-459, 123 P.2d 106 [applying former § 1552, the predecessor statute to § 2616].) Anyone who wrongfully takes the property belonging to a conservatee, including a trustee, is personally liable for twice the value of the misappropriated property. (§ 2619.5.)


In short, there are satisfactory means by which Johnson can monitor the Trust and the trustee’s activities during the pendency of the conservatorship. Much as Johnson would like to have a court declare the Trust to be irrevocable during Frudenfeld’s lifetime, contrary to the terms of the Trust, it is unnecessary to do so to protect Johnson’s interest. The Legislature has devised the methods we have described above to protect the rights of persons interested in the estate of a conservatee. The Legislature has also determined that the conservator should retain the right to seek revocation of an inter vivos trust during the conservatee’s lifetime. Johnson cannot be accorded all the rights of a vested beneficiary before the death of the trustor.




The judgment is affirmed.


Linthicum v. Rudi, 148 P.2d 746




In this appeal, we consider whether revocable inter vivos trust beneficiaries have the right to challenge amendments to the trust, when made by the settlor during the settlor’s lifetime. Because we conclude that a beneficiary’s interest in a revocable inter vivos trust is contingent at most, we hold that, generally, these beneficiaries lack standing to challenge the settlor’s lifetime amendments. Instead, to challenge the settlor’s capacity to make amendments, revocable inter vivos trust beneficiaries must follow the procedures set forth in Nevada’s guardianship statutes, NRS Chapter 159. Accordingly, we affirm the district court’s dismissal of the underlying complaint challenging revocable inter vivos trust amendments.




Appellants Ernette and Myrna Linthicum are the brother and sister-in-law, respectively, of Claire Linthicum–Cobb. In 2002, Cobb executed a will and a revocable inter vivos trust. As settlor, Cobb named herself trustee and reserved the power to revoke or amend the trust throughout her lifetime without having to notify any beneficiary. Cobb named Ernette and Myrna the primary beneficiaries of the trust upon Cobb’s death. Additionally, Cobb named Ernette and Myrna successor trustees upon Cobb’s death or incapacity. Finally, the trust stated that the trust would become irrevocable upon Cobb’s death.


In 2004, Cobb executed a new will and a restatement/amendment to the trust. The amended trust replaced Ernette and Myrna as successor trustees with respondent Arnold Rudi, the nephew of Cobb’s deceased husband. Also, the amended trust allegedly named Rudi as the sole beneficiary. Under the amended trust, Cobb remained the current trustee and retained the power to revoke the trust. Thus, the amended trust was still a revocable inter vivos trust.


After Cobb named Rudi the sole successor trustee, Rudi and Guardianship Services of Nevada petitioned for co-guardianship of Cobb’s person and estate because Cobb was possibly delusional and paranoid. Ernette and Myrna objected to Rudi’s appointment as a co-guardian; Rudi’s petition for guardianship was later withdrawn. The district court granted Guardianship Services’ petition for guardianship because it found that some of Cobb’s actions had resulted in self-neglect and potential self-harm.


Subsequently, Ernette and Myrna filed a complaint alleging that the amended trust was a product of incapacity and/or undue influence, and they sought a constructive trust and/or cancellation of the amended trust. As to undue influence, Ernette and Myrna alleged that Rudi had a confidential relationship with Cobb and participated in executing the amended trust.


Rudi filed a motion to dismiss the complaint…asserting that Ernette and Myrna had failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted because they lacked standing to challenge the amended trust. Specifically, Rudi argued that a will contest cannot be maintained until the testator dies, and since Cobb was still alive at the time, Ernette and Myrna lacked a present legal interest in the will and the trust. Rudi also argued that Ernette and Myrna could not assert any damages resulting from the amended trust.


Ernette and Myrna simultaneously filed an opposition to Rudi’s motion to dismiss and a motion for the appointment of themselves as guardians ad litem. Ernette and Myrna argued that they had standing because the amended trust was presently operative and effectual. Moreover, they argued that even if they could not challenge Cobb’s will until after her death, it was necessary to challenge the amended trust during Cobb’s lifetime to ensure that her wishes for the administration of her estate were observed while she was incapacitated. Finally, if the court concluded that they did not have standing, they asked that they be appointed as guardians ad litem.


The district court granted Rudi’s motion to dismiss, without prejudice, finding that Ernette and Myrna lacked standing to challenge the amended living trust because Cobb was still alive; the court also denied Ernette and Myrna’s motion to be appointed guardians ad litem. In denying a subsequent rehearing motion, the district court explained that Ernette’s and Myrna’s interest was at best contingent and would only vest if they survived Cobb. The district court also granted Rudi’s motion for attorney fees and costs. Ernette and Myrna appealed.




Ernette and Myrna argue that Nevada statutory law allows them to challenge Cobb’s revocable inter vivos trust during Cobb’s lifetime*1455 and that the district court erred by granting Rudi’s motion to dismiss. Specifically, Ernette and Myrna argue that NRS 164.015, NRS 153.031 (1)(a) and NRS 153.031(1)(d) allow interested persons to challenge the validity of a revocable trust while the settlor is still alive. We disagree.


If a motion to dismiss is made under NRCP 12(b)(5) and “matters outside the pleading are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion shall be treated as one for summary judgment.” The district court did consider matters outside the parties’ pleadings, such as the guardianship order. Thus, we review Rudi’s motion to dismiss as a motion for summary judgment. This court reviews an order granting summary judgment de novo.


NRS 164.015(1) permits “an interested person” to petition the court for proceedings “concerning the internal affairs of a nontestamentary trust” and to obtain “any appropriate relief provided with respect to a testamentary trust in NRS 153.031.” NRS 153.031 (1)(a) and NRS 153.031 (1)(d) allow a trustee or beneficiary of a trust to petition the court to determine the existence of the trust and the validity of a trust provision, respectively. However, neither of these statutes directly addresses revocable inter vivos trusts, such as the trust in this case. Moreover, these statutes specifically refer to petitions by interested persons. Because the trust at issue is a revocable inter vivos trust and Cobb retained the ability to revoke the trust during her lifetime, Ernette and Myrna have at most a contingent interest that has not yet vested. Consequently, Ernette and Myrna are not interested persons within the meaning of NRS 164.015 and NRS 153.031.


In so concluding, we embrace the holdings of other jurisdictions that have considered the matter. In a case from Ohio, Lewis v. Star Bank, N.A., Butler County, the beneficiaries of a revocable inter vivos trust sued the trustee for an alleged breach of fiduciary duty for failing to give pre-death tax and estate-planning advice to the settlor. The Ohio Court of Appeals determined that while the settlor was alive, pursuant to the terms of the trust itself, she had reserved the right to modify or revoke the trust. The court further concluded that as long as the settlor had that right and other “indicia of retained ownership” during her lifetime, the beneficiaries did not have an absolute entitlement to any portion of the trust while the settlor was alive. Since the beneficiaries’ interests were subject to complete divestment while the settlor was alive, the court held that the beneficiaries were not in privity with the settlor or the trustee and could not maintain their lawsuit.


Similarly, in Ullman v. Garcia, a Florida appellate court cited a Florida statute that prevented revocable trusts from being contested before the settlor’s death. Although the court relied in part on a statute, it also elaborated upon the reasoning behind this rule, much of which underlies our holding today. The Florida court noted that the devisee of a revocable trust does not enjoy any control over ownership of the trust until the settlor’s death. Because the settlor has an absolute right to terminate the trust at any time and distribute the trust property as he or she sees fit, named beneficiaries to a revocable trust are only “potential devisees.” The court also observed that a revocable trust is “a unique instrument” that has “no legal significance until the [settlor]’s death.”


Ernette and Myrna cite a California case, Conservatorship of Estate of Irvine, to support their argument that they have standing to challenge Cobb’s revocable inter vivos trust. In Irvine, a California appellate court upheld a lower court’s order invalidating an amendment to a revocable living trust. However, Irvine is distinguishable from the present case. In Irvine, the trust allowed the settlor to amend the trust only upon written notice personally served upon and accepted by the trustee. The court noted that under a California statute, a settlor could bind himself to a specific method of amendment by providing for that method in the trust itself. Since the settlor in the case had not served the trustee with notice of the amendment, the court held that the requirements of the trust had not been satisfied and that the amendment never became effective.


Unlike the situation in Irvine, in the present case, Cobb’s trust does not contain a notice requirement or similar provision that would grant standing to Ernette and Myrna to challenge the trust *1457 amendment, nor does Nevada have a statute similar to the California statute. Consequently, Irvine does not lend support for Ernette and Myrna’s position.


Nevada statutes do not contemplate beneficiaries to a revocable inter vivos trust challenging the trust until the settlor’s death. Furthermore, such beneficiaries have only a contingent interest, at most, while the settlor is still alive. That interest does not vest until the settlor’s death. Other jurisdictions addressing the issue have held similarly. For these reasons, we conclude that Ernette and Myrna lack standing to challenge Cobb’s revocable inter vivos trust while Cobb is still alive.


After filing their complaint, Ernette and Myrna requested that the district court appoint them as Cobb’s guardians ad litem, under NRS Chapter 159, so that they could prosecute an action against Rudi and the trust on Cobb’s behalf. For Ernette and Myrna to serve as Cobb’s guardians ad litem under these circumstances—namely, in a matter in which they challenge Cobb’s actions in amending her trust to exclude themselves as beneficiaries—would create a conflict of interest. Accordingly, the district court properly denied their request. To the extent that Ernette and Myrna’s concerns center on Cobb’s capacity, those concerns are more appropriately addressed under Nevada’s guardianship statutes, NRS Chapter 159, in the separate action brought under those statutes, rather than through their appointment as guardians ad litem in the litigation against Cobb’s trust.


Finally, Ernette and Myrna also argue that the district court erred in awarding costs and attorney fees to Rudi as the prevailing party. We have considered the argument, and based on our holding today, we conclude that it is without merit.




Because we conclude that a beneficiary’s interest in a revocable inter vivos trust is contingent at most, we conclude that Ernette and Myrna lack standing to challenge Cobb’s revocable inter vivos trust during Cobb’s lifetime. Additionally, we conclude that Ernette *1458 and Myrna must follow the procedures created by the Legislature when it modified Nevada’s guardianship statutes in 2003, if they wish to pursue a remedy in this matter. Accordingly, we affirm the district court orders.


Notes, Questions and Problems


1. In order for there to be a valid inter vivos trust created by a deed of trust, the trust property must be delivered to the trustee. The settlor usually retains the power to revoke the trust. Thus, the trustee cannot do any thing with the property until the settlor dies. Unlike an inter vivos trust that is created by a declaration of trust, the courts require the settlor to deliver the trust property to the trustee. There are three types of delivery: actual, constructive and symbolic. Courts require the trust property to be actually delivered unless that is impossible or impracticable. Actual delivery may not be feasible based upon the nature and/or location of the property and/or the condition of the settlor. Constructive delivery exists when the settlor gives the trustee something that permits him to obtain possession of the property. For example, the settlor can satisfy constructive delivery by giving the trustee the keys to the safe deposit box where the trust property is located. In order to satisfy the symbolic delivery requirement, the settlor could give the trustee something that symbolizes the trust property. For instance, the settlor could send the trustee a list of expensive paintings that she wants to be the property of the trust if it is not convenient for her to deliver the paintings in a timely manner.


2. A revocable declaration of trust is created when the settlor states, “I declare myself trustee of my family’s farm for the benefit of myself during my lifetime. Upon my death, the farm will pass to my sister to be held in trust for my grandchildren.” How does this differ from a testamentary trust? Since this trust does not comply with the Wills Act, should it be enforceable?


3. Problems


Assuming that actual delivery is not possible, in which of the following cases has the property been effectively delivered?


a). Elizabeth wants to place her collection of twelve antique cars in trust for the benefit of her children. Elizabeth delivers the automobile insurance policies to the trustee.


b). Egypt wants to place her collection of two hundred rare books in trust for the benefit of her children. Egypt gives the trustee a memorandum listing the titles of the books.


c). Daniel wants to place his stocks in trust for the benefit of his children. The stock certificates are in his safe deposit box. Daniel gives the trustee the keys to the desk where the keys to the safe deposit box are located.


d). Kevin wants to place his bed and breakfast in trust for the benefit of his children. Kevin gives the trustee the deed to the property.


3.1.2. Totten/Tentative Trust



Another type of trust that the law recognizes is the Totten trust. The Totten trust is referred to as the poor man’s trust because it can be created without expense or formalities. This type of savings account trust was recognized in the landmark case of In re Totten, 71 N.E. 748 (N.Y. 1904). In order to transfer property after death, a person has to execute a will. If A places her daughter’s name on her bank account with the intention that the daughter is only to remove money from the bank account after A dies, it is clear that A has testamentary intent with regards to the money. A is attempting to make a testamentary disposition of the money without executing a will. This transaction like most payable on death transactions is invalid. Nevertheless, the Totten trust is an exception to this rule. The Totten case involved the following transaction. A deposited money into a savings account in the name of “A, as trustee for B.” While she was alive, A maintained the right to revoke the trust by taking all of the money out of the account at any time. B was only entitled to the money that remained in the savings account after A died. The Totten court concluded that the transaction was not testamentary in nature. The court reasoned that, at the time A made the deposit, a “tentative” revocable trust was established. Hence, as beneficiary of that trust, B was legally entitled to any money left in the account when A died.


3.2 Trusts Created By Operation of Law



3.2.1 Resulting Trust



In some contexts, courts will imply a trust. A resulting trust is an implied trust that equity requires the law to establish when it can be inferred from the character of the transaction that the person who holds the legal title to the property was not intended to have the beneficial interest. Thus, a resulting trust is really an equitable reversionary interest in property. The trust is created by operation of law in the following contexts: (1) a private expressed trust fails or makes an incomplete disposition; (2) the property of the trust proves to exceeds what is required to satisfy the trust purpose; (3) one person pays the consideration for a transfer of real property, but the title has been taken in the name of another person. Consider the following examples:


Example 1-Betty Jo devises property to Billy Bob in trust to pay the income to Denver for life, and on Denver’s death to distribute the remaining property to Betty Jo’s friends. After Denver dies the trust would be dissolved for lack of ascertainable beneficiaries. In order to avoid letting Billy Bob retain the trust property, the court would place a resulting trust on the property for the benefit of Betty Jo’s heirs or devisees.


Example 2-Beyonce purchases Blueacre with money supplied by Kelly. Unless Beyonce can show that Kelly intended to make a gift of Blueacre to Beyonce, Beyonce holds title to Blueacre on resulting trust for Kelly.


Sahagun v. Ibarra, 90 S.W.3d 860




This appeal arises from a dispute over a house in which Maria M. Guadalupe Sahagun possesses legal title. The trial court determined that a resulting trust was created at the inception of title in Enrique Ibarra, Sr.’s favor and that this equitable title was superior to Sahagun’s legal title. Sahagun brings four issues on appeal. We overrule all issues and affirm the judgment of the trial court.




In 1991, Ibarra and Sahagun were romantically involved despite the fact that Ibarra was married to another woman. Ibarra moved into Sahagun’s home. Sahagun then sold her home, and she and Ibarra moved into a rental property. In 1996, Sahagun bought a house in her name for $89,000.00. That house is the subject of this appeal. Ibarra contributed $10,000 in earnest money. Sahagun paid an additional $15,000.00 as a down payment. Ibarra contends that he and Sahagun intended to buy the house together. According to Ibarra, the reason that the title was in Sahagun’s name was because he and Sahagun did not want his wife to know about the purchase. Sahagun disputed Ibarra’s version of events and testified that Ibarra gave her the money, because he had “lived with me for so long off [sic] of me.” Sahagun claims that Ibarra knew that the house was hers and that it would eventually belong to her daughter. Ibarra and Sahagun lived in the house together as a couple. Ibarra and Sahagun later separated, and Ibarra moved out of the home. When Sahagun put the house up for sale, Ibarra filed a lis pendens. He then filed suit against Sahagun. Later, Ibarra filed a motion to dismiss without prejudice, claiming that the parties had settled their dispute. According to Sahagun, she and Ibarra agreed that she would repay him $10,000.00. This agreement, however, was not reduced to writing. The trial court granted the motion to dismiss and entered an order of dismissal without prejudice. In March of 1998, Ibarra and Sahagun went to the law office of Ibarra’s divorce attorney. Sahagun gave Ibarra a check for $2,000.00 with a notation “partial pymt. on loan” in the memo section. Sahagun claims that she made this payment in accordance with their settlement agreement. Ibarra disputes Sahagun’s assertion and contends that Sahagun paid him the money so that he could get a divorce and that he never saw the notation on the check. Ibarra refiled his lawsuit against Sahagun, requesting that the trial court impose a constructive trust in his favor. The case was tried to the bench. At trial, Ibarra sought an amendment to add a claim for a resulting trust. The trial court found in Ibarra’s favor and imposed a resulting trust, awarding Ibarra an undivided interest of 43/100 in the house.




In her first and second issues, Sahagun argues that the trial court had no jurisdiction to enter its judgment. Sahagun contends that the prior order of dismissal without prejudice is substantively an order dismissing the cause with prejudice and thus, bars Ibarra’s refiling his suit against her pursuant to the doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel. Indeed, a dismissal with prejudice functions as a final determination on the merits, Mossler v. Shields, 818 S.W.2d 752, 754 (Tex. 1991), and orders dismissing cases with prejudice have full res judicata and collateral estoppel effect, barring any subsequent suit arising out of the same facts brought by the same party against the same respondent. Lentworth v. Traham, 981 S.W.2d 720, 722 (Tex. App-Houston [1st Dist.] 1998, no pet).


Sahagun urges that we should look to the substance of the motion and not to its title. Because the motion to dismiss without prejudice states that “the parties have settled their dispute,” Sahagun argues that we should interpret the substance of the motion as requesting dismissal with prejudice. Similarly, Sahagun contends that because the order of dismissal without prejudice states that the trial court determined the motion to be “meritorious,” we should interpret the order as dismissing the case with prejudice. For support, Sahagun cites De La Rosa v. Vasquez, 748 S.W.2d 23 (Tex. App.-Amarillo 1988, no writ), which arose out of a suit to establish paternity. In that case, although the parties entitled their joint motion a “motion for nonsuit,” they requested that the court dismiss their suit with prejudice as they had fully settled their dispute. Id. at 26. On appeal, Vasquez argued that the trial court should not have entered judgment with prejudice, because their joint motion was entitled a motion for nonsuit. Id. The appellate court disagreed and after reviewing the substance of the motion, determined that the motion, despite its title, was a motion seeking dismissal with prejudice based upon the compromise and settlement of the parties. Id. Sahagun asks that we interpret this holding to extend to any motion seeking dismissal because the parties have settled their dispute. We decline to do so.


Here, Ibarra moved for dismissal without prejudice on the grounds that the parties had settled their dispute. The trial court then ordered that the cause be dismissed without prejudice. The clear intent of the motion and the order was that the cause be dismissed without prejudice. As the cause was dismissed without prejudice, res judicata and collateral estoppel did not bar Ibarra’s suit. We overrule Sahagun’s first and second issues.




In her third issue, Sahagun argues that there was no evidence to impose a resulting trust against her. A resulting trust arises by operation of law when title is conveyed to one person but the purchase price or a portion of it is paid by another. Tricentol Oil Trading, Inc. v. Annesely, 809 S.W.2d 218, 220 (Tex. 1991). To create a resulting trust, the payment must be made at the time of purchase and the person seeking to impose a resulting trust must have paid the money in the character of a purchaser. Lifemark Corp. v. Merritt, 655 S.W.2d 310, 317 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 1983, writ. ref’d n.r.e. No resulting trust exists in favor of one who pays the purchase price by way of mere loan to another and the conveyance is taken in the name of the borrower. Id.; Jordan v. Jordan, 154 S.W. 359, 361 (Tex. Civ. App.-Texarkana 1913, writ. ref’d) (citing Boehl v. Wadgymar, 54 Tex. 598 (1881). Thus, if A loans money to B, B purchases property with that money, and the conveyance is taken in B’s name, no resulting trust arises in favor of A. However, if A pays the purchase price and causes the deed to the property to be placed in B’s name, a resulting trust does arise in favor of A. See Atkins v. Carson, 467 S.W.2d 495, 500 (Tex. Civ. App.-San Antonio 1971, writ ref’d n.r.e.).


In reviewing a legal sufficiency challenge on appeal, all the record evidence and reasonable inferences from that evidence are reviewed in a light most favorable to the findings, and the finding is upheld if it is supported by anything more than a scintilla of evidence. Formosa Plastics Corp. USA v. Presidio Engineers & Contractors, Inc., 960 S.W.2d 41, 48 (Tex. 1998). Anything more than a scintilla of evidence is legally sufficient to support the finding. Id.


Sahagun argues that Ibarra was required to prove a fiduciary relationship citing language in Tricentrol Oil Trading, Inc. v. Annesley, 809 S.W.2d 218, 220 (Tex. 1991), for support. In Tricentrol, the supreme court explained that “[w]hen title to property is taken in the name of someone other than the person who advances the purchase price, a resulting trust is created in favor of the payor.Id. (emphasis added). Once this resulting trust is created, the “trustee of a resulting trust stands in a fiduciary relationship with the beneficiary insofar as the trust property is concerned.” Id. Tricentrol stands for the proposition that once a resulting trust is created, the trustee (in this case, Sahagun) stands in a fiduciary relationship with the beneficiary (in this case, Ibarra). For the evidence to be legally sufficient, there must be some evidence that a resulting trust was created. There need not, however, be evidence of a fiduciary relationship between Ibarra and Sahagun prior to the creation of the resulting trust. The creation of the resulting trust, itself, establishes the fiduciary relationship.


At trial, Ibarra testified that he and Sahagun decided to buy a house because “they were just throwing money away” by renting a house. A real estate agent had told him about the house that is the subject of this suit. According to Ibarra, he and Sahagun liked the house and Ibarra put $1,500.00 of his separate money down as earnest money. Ibarra testified that he and Sahagun decided to purchase the house in her name because Ibarra was not divorced and they wanted to protect Sahagun from his wife and children. Because he and Sahagun wanted to “expedite things,” Ibarra put $8,500.00 more down as earnest money. Thus, according to Ibarra’s testimony, he and Sahagun agreed to purchase the house together. Although Sahagun’s testimony contradicts Ibarra’s, his testimony is more than a scintilla of evidence that a resulting trust was created at the time of inception of title. We overrule Sahagun’s third issue.




Having overruled all issues, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.


3.2.2. Constructive Trust



A constructive trust is an equitable remedy designed to prevent unjust enrichment or to punish fraud. The court places a trust over the property to prevent the wrongdoer from benefitting from its use. The moment the constructive trust is created the wrongdoer loses all interest in the trust property. Constructive trusts are different from resulting trusts because courts impose constructive trusts in situations where no trust was ever anticipated. For instance, if a person named in the testator’s will causes the testator’s death, the slayer statute will usually prevent the person from inheriting. Since the probate court is a limited jurisdiction court, it has to honor the terms of the testator’s will and give the slayer the bequest. In order to prevent the slayer from benefitting from his crime, the court can imposed a constructive trust on the property he receives under the will. Thus, the slayer never takes an interest in the property. He holds the property in trust for the testator’s next of kin. Once the property is converted into a constructive trust, the holder of the property must transfer it to the constructive beneficiary.


Rawlings v. Rawlings, 240 P.2d 754




On Certiorari to the Utah Court of Appeals


DURRANT, Associate Chief Justice:




¶1 We granted certiorari in this case to determine whether the court of appeals erred in reversing the district court’s imposition of a constructive trust. The parties in this case are siblings who dispute the ownership of farm land transferred by their father. The oldest sibling, Donald, received the land as the grantee under a warranty deed. He contends that his father transferred the land to him in exchange for payments he made on some of his father’s debts. The family’s four other siblings and their spouses (collectively, the “siblings”) contend that their father deeded the land to Donald in an attempt to create a family trust. During the time period surrounding this transfer, their father had been diagnosed with cancer and owning the land made him ineligible for welfare assistance. The siblings contend that their father placed the property in their older brother’s name so that he could act as trustee over the land and hold it for the benefit of the family. The siblings also contend that, in the decades since the transfer, the land was treated as a family farm and that they have contributed to its care, maintenance, and profitability.


¶2 The district court credited the testimony of the siblings and found that the oldest brother had been unjustly enriched by accepting the siblings’ years of contributions to the success of the farm. Accordingly, the court exercised its equitable power to award a constructive trust in favor of the siblings. The court of appeals reversed. Concluding that certain of the district court’s findings of fact were inconsistent with its award of a constructive trust, the court of appeals held as a matter of law that the siblings could not prevail on any theory of constructive trust. We exercised our jurisdiction pursuant to Utah Code section 78A-3-102(3)(a) (2008) and granted the siblings’ petition for certiorari. We reverse the judgment of the court of appeals.




¶3 Because the parties do not dispute any of the trial court’s findings of fact, we recite the facts in accordance with those findings.


¶4 The parties in this case are siblings whose father, Arnold Rawlings, owned twenty-two acres of land near Orem, Utah. In 1957, a few years before the events giving rise to this case occurred, Arnold transferred approximately twelve acres to a third party while retaining approximately ten acres that he operated as a family farm. Between 1960 and 1967, Arnold transferred portions of this farm land to his two oldest sons, Donald and Dwayne Rawlings. The end result of these transfers was that both Donald and Dwayne received parcels approximately one acre in size on which to build their homes. Arnold retained half an acre in the northeast corner of the property where his house was located. Except for these assorted parcels of land, the remainder of Arnold’s property remained undivided until March 24, 1967. On that day, he transferred to Dwayne a small parcel approximately half an acre immediately south of Donald’s land-which Dwayne has held in trust for the other members of the family. On the same day, Arnold transferred the remaining farm property to Donald, in one undivided parcel, via a general warranty deed. In contrast to the siblings’ claims that Donald took the land as a trustee, Donald contends that this transfer was compensation for his having paid certain debts on his father’s behalf.


¶5 The March 24 land transfers happened at a time when Arnold’s health had substantially deteriorated. In October of the year before, he was diagnosed with cancer. Later that year he underwent surgery to remove a large tumor. Although he labored to recover from this surgery, Arnold began radiation treatments in January of 1967. He was hospitalized twice in the coming months, and by March 24, his health was very poor.


¶6 The siblings contend that the purpose of transferring the farm property to Donald was to facilitate his eligibility for welfare assistance. Sometime prior to December 16, 1966, Donald had contacted the State Welfare Department to discuss Arnold’s eligibility, and it became apparent that Arnold would receive assistance only if the farm property was not held in his name. Thus, shortly before the March 24 transfers, Arnold discussed with LaRell, his third oldest son, the need to take the property out of Arnold’s name. They discussed the best means to effect this, and LaRell suggested that the property be transferred to Dwayne because LaRell believed Dwayne would be fair in his dealings with the family. Ultimately, Arnold decided to transfer the land to Donald instead. Arnold met once with LaRell and Donald, and later with Dwayne and Donald, to discuss these plans. The trial court credited this testimony and found that Donald offered no evidence to rebut it.


¶7 Around the time of the transfer, Donald and the siblings also conducted other business relevant to the farm property. First, in January of that year, Donald began telling Dwayne that Arnold needed approximately $1,000 to pay off the taxes on the farm. Dwayne borrowed the funds to pay these taxes on his father’s behalf and gave the money to Donald. But it was not until the March 24 transfer was complete that Donald used this money to pay off the back taxes. Second, on the same day that Arnold transferred the farm property to Donald, the siblings and their spouses relinquished their interests in the farm property to Donald via a quitclaim deed. Over time, the siblings also transferred neighboring parcels of land to Donald to add to the trust property.


¶8 In the years after the transfer, Arnold continued to struggle with his health, but also continued to manage and collect the profits from the farm property until his death in 1971. Indeed, in the fall of 1969, Arnold struggled to complete the harvest on his own. So, the next spring, Arnold began corresponding with LaRell’s commanding officers in the military in the hopes of having LaRell temporarily released from his duties so he could return and help with the maintenance of the farm. Arnold submitted notarized affidavits to this effect, and had a number of people write letters in support of this effort. These documents uniformly refer to the property as Arnold’s Farm and refer to Arnold’s efforts to harvest crops and maintain the farm, and given his health, the difficulty he faced doing it alone.


¶9 In addition to managing the property as a farm, Arnold also managed family affairs on the farm: when Arnold’s youngest son, Bryce, sought to locate a mobile home on farm property, it was Arnold’s permission he sought, and it was Arnold who decided the best location for the trailer. And less than a month after Arnold’s death in 1971, Arnold’s widow, Cleo-not Donald-paid the property taxes on all of the farm property.


¶10 For years after Arnold’s death, the farm property was managed in a manner consistent with it being held in trust for the family. Bryce continued to live on the land for four or five years after Arnold’s death. Donald consistently represented to his siblings that income from the farm property was being used to support their mother. Because of these representations, all of the siblings, except Donald, worked in the orchard and helped to maintain the farm property. When Donald was asked during his deposition which of the siblings contributed to the operation of the farm property, Donald answered, “All I know is that I didn’t.”


¶11 Arnold’s 1957 transfer of twelve acres south of the farm property led to a boundary dispute regarding the southern border of the farm property. During this dispute, Donald’s representations to the family reinforced the idea that this land was being managed for the benefit of the family. Specifically, by 1974 a dispute had arisen over the location of the border between the farm property and the land that Arnold had transferred in 1957. Donald enlisted Dwayne to help erect a fence at the boundary line in the hopes of settling this dispute and protecting what Donald referred to as “Mother’s farm.” Donald also induced his siblings to sign a quitclaim deed for the farm property. He told them that the quitclaim deed encompassed only the land being disputed, but it actually described the entire farm property. The trial court found that this quitclaim deed would have been unnecessary if Donald had owned the property by virtue of the 1967 conveyance. Thus, it rejected Donald’s contention that the purpose of the quitclaim deed was to clear up the title problems on the southern boundary. When Donald settled the boundary dispute for $52,000, he paid $500 each to Bryce and Carol Lynn (Arnold’s only daughter), and $600 to Dwayne. He offered $500 to LaRell, but LaRell refused to accept the money. Donald also spent $5,000 to prepay burial funds for Cleo and to buy her a car.


¶12 Not until after 1993 were the siblings made aware that Donald considered the land to be his own property. A dispute arose regarding a piece of the farm property that formed part of the basis for a land exchange that Donald and Dwayne had undertaken in 1978. In exchange for a piece of industrial property valued at approximately $45,000, the two brothers each contributed $15,000. A small piece of the farm property, valued at approximately $15,000, constituted the remainder of their contribution. The industrial property they received was eventually divided into northern and southern halves, with each brother responsible for one of the halves. In 1993, Donald brought suit to establish himself as the owner of two-thirds of this property. He alleged that he alone held title to the farm property that formed part of the basis of the exchange. Alleging that Dwayne had no interest in the farm property, Donald contended that his share of the industrial property should reflect the fact that he contributed $15,000 worth of land and $15,000 in cash, whereas Dwayne only contributed $15,000 in cash. The district court found that this suit, filed in 1997, was the first repudiation by Donald of his trust responsibilities. In response to Donald’s suit to quiet title, Dwayne and the siblings filed counterclaims seeking imposition of a constructive trust.


¶13 Donald’s version of events surrounding the 1967 transfer of farm property differs from that of the siblings. He contends that Arnold had mortgaged the farm property prior to being diagnosed with cancer and that Donald rescued the land from foreclosure by paying off his father’s indebtedness. Thus, he contends that the deed transferring the land is exactly what it purports to be on its face: a general warranty deed transferring fee simple ownership. He contends that Arnold, prompted by Donald’s payments of this indebtedness, intended to give him the farm property free of any implicit trust obligation.


¶14 The trial court explicitly discredited this testimony for a number of reasons. First, Donald had his own indebtedness with the same bank, and during the time when he would have been paying off his father’s debts, his payments to the bank did not increase in a manner consistent with making additional payments. Second, after this litigation began, Donald’s wife, Jeanette, altered the cancelled checks to the bank by inserting notes on the memo line to make it appear as though the checks were written to pay Arnold’s mortgage. Third, the evidence was not consistent with the possibility of imminent foreclosure, because the bank had neither sent any notices of default (as it would have been required to do) nor attempted to foreclose on two vehicles that were also part of the security for the loan.


¶15 Ultimately, the district court found the testimony of the siblings persuasive and rejected Donald’s version of events. It concluded that the purpose of the transfer was to accommodate Arnold’s attempts at becoming eligible for welfare, not in exchange for payment of Arnold’s debt and not to transfer ownership. It concluded the siblings had presented clear and convincing evidence to support an “equitable need to impose a constructive trust on the property.” It also concluded that Donald and Jeanette had been unjustly enriched by keeping the $1,000 that Dwayne paid toward the property taxes, by keeping the bulk of the $52,000 received from the settlement of the boundary dispute, and by keeping “other benefits from the use and negotiations relative to the trust property.” Thus, the trial court entered judgment in favor of the siblings, concluding that the March 24 conveyance to Donald, along with the relevant quitclaim deeds, created a constructive trust on the property described therein.


¶16 The court of appeals reversed this judgment. It began by comparing the two different theories under which a constructive trust may be imposed. One theory, which it called a “legal constructive trust,” requires no showing of unjust enrichment. Instead, it concluded that in some cases a constructive trust is imposed to give effect to a grantor’s attempt to create an oral express trust. The court of appeals contrasted this sort of constructive trust with “equitable constructive trusts,” which are imposed to remedy unjust enrichment. It then determined that the trial court had failed to properly distinguish the two and had essentially used unjust enrichment as a substitute for proof of an oral express trust. It concluded that the siblings’ case must succeed or fail based on whether they had proven Arnold’s intent to orally impose trust obligations. According to the court of appeals, either Donald had violated Arnold’s express wishes-which would make a legal constructive trust the only appropriate remedy-or the farm property belonged to Donald, in which case he had not been unjustly enriched by his years of ownership.


¶17 Having come to this conclusion, the court of appeals acknowledged that it would normally be required to remand the case for factual findings regarding the elements of a legal constructive trust. It did not do so, however, because such a claim requires the party challenging a warranty deed to prove the intent to create a trust. But here, one of the trial court’s findings stated that “Arnold did not consider the conveyance to be a transfer of his ownership rights in the property.” Relying on this finding of fact, the court of appeals concluded that the siblings’ claim must fail as a matter of law. It reasoned that if Arnold did not intend to transfer ownership at all, then he could not have intended to create a trust because creation of a trust requires that title to the property be transferred to a trustee. Thus, it dismissed the siblings’ claims as a matter of law and instructed the trial court to enter judgment quieting title to the property in favor of Donald.


¶18 We granted certiorari to determine whether the court of appeals correctly applied Utah’s law of constructive trusts. Before us, the siblings argue that the court of appeals erred in two ways. First, they argue that the court of appeals erred by interpreting the trial court’s finding of fact in isolation and in a manner inconsistent with its judgment. They contend that the finding of fact regarding Arnold’s intent to transfer ownership can, and should, be interpreted to mean that Arnold intended to transfer bare legal title while maintaining the beneficial interest in the land. They argue that such an interpretation would support a constructive trust and that the court of appeals erred when it held that they could not prevail on this claim. Second, the siblings argue that the success of the farm was based on years of effort and contribution by everyone in the family. They rely on the trial court’s findings regarding Dwayne’s payment of back taxes, the contribution of labor by all of the siblings to keep the farm operational, and the siblings’ assistance during the 1978 boundary dispute. All of these contributions, they contend, support a finding of unjust enrichment because their efforts were undertaken in reliance on their belief that the land was being held in trust for their benefit.


¶19 We conclude that the district court’s findings were sufficient to support imposition of a constructive trust. In deciding that the findings of fact regarding Arnold’s intent foreclosed the siblings from prevailing on a claim of unjust enrichment, the court of appeals erred. The trial court acted within the bounds of its discretion in imposing a constructive trust. Therefore, we reverse the judgment of the court of appeals.




¶20 When reviewing cases pursuant to a writ of certiorari, this court reviews the decision of the court of appeals, not that of the district court. The court of appeals’ holding that the siblings could establish neither an oral express trust nor unjust enrichment is a legal determination that we review for correctness.


¶21 With regard to the imposition of a constructive trust, the availability of such a remedy is also a question of law reviewed for correctness. But if such a remedy is available, the “ ‘trial court is accorded considerable latitude and discretion in applying and formulating an equitable remedy, and [it] will not be overturned unless it [has] abused its discretion.’ ”


¶22 Finally, because “[u]njust enrichment must remain a flexible and workable doctrine…. we afford broad discretion to the trial court in its application of unjust enrichment law to the facts.”




¶23 The siblings contend that the trial court was correct in imposing a constructive trust, either as a means of giving effect to an oral express trust, or as a means of remedying unjust enrichment. Thus, they argue that the court of appeals erred in two ways. First, they argue that the court of appeals misinterpreted the trial court’s findings of fact and that these findings actually demonstrate Arnold’s intent to create a trust to benefit the family. Second, they argue that the trial court was correct in finding that Donald had been unjustly enriched and that the court of appeals erred in holding otherwise. As such, they claim that the trial court had discretion to award a constructive trust under either theory.


¶24 In addressing the siblings’ claims, we keep a number of important principles in mind. First, we affirm our prior statement that “‘the forms and varieties of these trusts … are practically without limit.’ ” We also note that, in cases involving transfers of land, imposing a constructive trust will often “alter a deed or other writing which is regular in form and is presumed to convey a clear and unambiguous title.” We have recognized that altering deeds in this way may make it difficult for a landowner to “rest in the security of his title to property, however solemn might be the instrument on which it was founded.” To mitigate this effect, we require that the evidence offered to overcome a deed must be “clear and convincing.”


¶25 Even given this elevated burden of proof, we agree with the siblings with regard to their claim for unjust enrichment. First, we hold that the court of appeals incorrectly determined that the siblings must succeed or fail based solely on the intent underlying Arnold’s transfer of land. Rather, a claim for an oral express trust is independent from a claim for unjust enrichment, and either claim may support imposition of a constructive trust. Second, because unjust enrichment is a flexible doctrine and because trial courts have broad discretion in fashioning remedies for unjust enrichment, we hold that the court of appeals erred in reversing the trial court’s award of a constructive trust. Because we affirm the trial court’s finding of unjust enrichment and its imposition of a constructive trust on that basis, we need not determine whether the siblings also could have prevailed in their attempt to establish an oral express trust. In order to explain our conclusions, we find it useful to articulate the legal standards for the types of constructive trust at issue in this case.


I. Constructive Trusts Are a Remedy That May Be Imposed Where a Party Has Been Unjustly Enriched or Where Necessary To An Oral Express


¶26 The siblings argue that a constructive trust may be imposed under either of two distinct causes of action. One is a cause of action to establish an oral express trust. The other is a claim for unjust enrichment. Oral express trusts have “certain fundamental characteristics” in common with traditional trusts because, like traditional trusts, they are the manifestation of a settlor’s intent with regard to property. The main such characteristic is the imposition of obligations on a trustee “to act for the benefit of [beneficiaries] as to matters within the scope of the [trust].” Like trusts created by a valid writing, constructive trusts imposed to give effect to oral express trusts are adequately characterized as “ ‘a fiduciary relationship with respect to property, arising as a result of a manifestation of an intention to create it and subjecting the person in whom the title is vested to equitable duties to deal with it for the benefit of others.’ ”


27 Where a transfer of land was made with the intent to create such a trust, the trust will generally fail unless evidenced by a writing that complies with the Statute of Frauds. Because oral express trusts do not meet these requirements, they will only be given effect in “certain circumstances.” In these instances, the constructive trusts are deemed to “arise[ ] by operation of law and [are] not within the statute of frauds.”


¶28 We have recognized that constructive trusts may be imposed in the circumstances set forth in section 45 of the Restatement (Second) of Trusts (the “Restatement of Trusts”). This section applies when the transferor of land intends for the transfer to benefit someone other than the transferor or the transferee:


(1) Where the owner of an interest in land transfers it inter vivos to another in trust for a third person, but no memorandum properly evidencing the intention to create a trust is signed, as required by the Statute of Frauds, and the transferee refuses to perform the trust, the transferee holds the interest upon a constructive trust for the third person, if, but only if, (a) the transferee by fraud, duress or undue influence prevented the transferor from creating an enforceable interest in the third person, or (b) the transferee at the time of the transfer was in a confidential relation to the transferor, or (c) the transfer was made by the transferor in anticipation of death.


In short, the imposition of a constructive trust under this section of the Restatement of Trusts requires proof that the transferor of land intended to create a trust and that one of the three identified circumstances existed at the time of the transfer. And where proving this intent will be contrary to an otherwise valid deed, the evidence of the trust must be clear and convincing.


¶29 As with claims based on an oral express trust, claims of unjust enrichment can support the imposition of a constructive trust. To this end, we have *763 adopted the formulation set forth at section 160 of the Restatement of Restitution: “a constructive trust may arise ‘where a person holding title to property is subject to an equitable duty to convey it to another on the ground that he would be unjustly enriched if he were permitted to retain it….’ ” A claim for unjust enrichment in Utah requires proof of three elements:


“(1) a benefit conferred on one person by another; (2) an appreciation or knowledge by the conferee of the benefit; and (3) the acceptance or retention by the conferee of the benefit under such circumstances as to make it inequitable for the conferee to retain the benefit without payment of its value.”


We have also noted that unjust enrichment plays an important role as a tool of equity: “[u]njust enrichment law developed to remedy injustice when other areas of the law could not,” and therefore “must remain a flexible and workable doctrine.”


¶30 Because of the flexible nature of the unjust enrichment doctrine, a constructive trust is an available remedy even in cases where a plaintiff might assert alternative legal theories to support imposition of a constructive trust. Nothing about the constructive trust that is imposed to give effect to an oral express trust does anything to preclude the imposition of a constructive trust as a remedy to prevent unjust enrichment.


¶31 Indeed, in Parks v. Zions First National Bank, the plaintiff brought claims under section 44 and 45 of the Restatement of Trusts, as well as a claim for unjust enrichment. Although the trial court found the plaintiff’s claim was not one for an oral express trust, we affirmed the trial court’s finding of unjust enrichment and its decision to impose a constructive trust as a remedy. We also explicitly rejected the notion that a party seeking to prove the existence of an oral express trust could not, where the facts would support it, also seek recovery under a theory of unjust enrichment. Thus, our cases establish the availability of both types of constructive trust sought in this case. And where the facts and law will support it, a plaintiff may alternatively pursue both kinds of constructive trust within the same lawsuit.


¶32 Having articulated the law as it relates to the siblings’ claims, we now address the issue presented in this case: whether the court of appeals erred in reversing the trial court’s imposition of a constructive trust. Because of the manner in which the court of appeals resolved the issue, we first turn to the court of appeals’ conclusion regarding oral express trusts, and then examine the court of appeals’ conclusion regarding unjust enrichment.


II. The Court of Appeals Erred in Basing Its Conclusion Solely On Whether Arnold Intended to Create An Oral Express Trust


¶33 The court of appeals incorrectly concluded that, because the trial court’s findings did not support an oral express trust, the siblings could not prevail on a theory of unjust enrichment. As discussed, our prior cases reveal two distinct legal causes of action that the siblings were free to pursue in this case. To the extent they have alleged that Arnold intended to create a trust that would inure to their benefit, they have stated a claim consistent with the cause of action set forth at section 45 of the Restatement of Trusts. If the siblings successfully proved this case, the trial court could have imposed a constructive trust on the farm property to give effect to Arnold’s intent. To the extent that the siblings have argued that Donald wrongfully retained the benefits of their contributions to the farm property, they seek a remedy for unjust enrichment. Where a party has successfully proven its case for unjust enrichment, the trial court has authority to impose a constructive trust as a remedy.


¶34 In reviewing our prior cases and the court of appeals’ opinion in this case, we are satisfied that the court of appeals articulated these legal standards correctly, but that it misconstrued the relationship between these causes of action. It determined that the siblings had attempted to use the law of unjust enrichment as a substitute for the law of oral express trusts. As such, it determined that the law imposed upon it a binary choice: either Arnold intended that Donald take the land as trustee, or the actions Donald took during his years of ownership were not unjust.


¶35 In fact, there is the potential for significant overlap in this case. If Arnold intended that Donald take the land as trustee, then it was both inequitable and a violation of the intended trust for Donald to retain for himself benefits that should have flowed to the trust. In such a case, a constructive trust imposed to give effect to the oral trust would also have remedied the related unjust enrichment. But even if the siblings could not prove Arnold’s intent to create such a trust, Donald’s actions, as found by the trial court, are the sort that would also support a claim of unjust enrichment. Assuming the siblings prevailed on this theory, the constructive trust would not be imposed to give effect to Arnold’s intent; it would be imposed to give effect to the judgment of a court, sitting in equity, regarding how best “to remedy injustice when other areas of the law [can] not.”


¶36 The court of appeals’ departure from our case law appears to be the result of its reliance on a single finding of fact interpreted in isolation. In its findings of fact, the trial court states that “Arnold did not consider the conveyance to be a transfer of his ownership rights in the property.” In its conclusions of law, the trial court reinforces this point: “The deed transfer was for accommodation and not intended to transfer ownership rights to Donald.” The court of appeals equated this finding with a finding that Arnold “did not intend to transfer the farm into trust.” Thus, it concluded that this finding precluded any oral express trust and that a constructive trust therefore could not be imposed.


¶37 The siblings argue that the court of appeals simply misinterpreted this finding of fact, and that it should be understood to mean that Arnold intended to transfer only legal title to Donald, while establishing a beneficial interest for the family. The siblings’ urged interpretation is consistent with general trust principles: “The fundamental nature of a trust is the division of title, with the trustee being the holder of legal title and the beneficiary that of equitable title.” Thus, every time a settlor creates a trust there is some interest in the trust res that is not transferred to the trustee. In fact, if ever the trustee also becomes the sole beneficiary, all interests in the trust property will reside in the trustee and legal and equitable title will merge. So, for Arnold to have intended to create a trust, he necessarily would have intended to convey to Donald something less than his full ownership rights. Otherwise, no equitable interest would be held on behalf of the beneficiaries.


¶38 The siblings also urge that the court of appeals’ interpretation of this finding of fact is an unreasonable construction of the trial court’s judgment. After all, the siblings note, the court of appeals’ disposition of the case upheld Donald’s ownership of the land. The siblings argue that this is absurd because it is directly contrary to the finding of fact on which the court of appeals relied. Given the alternative, they argue that the court of appeals had a duty to interpret the trial court’s findings in a manner favorable to its judgment.


¶39 Regardless of the merits of these arguments, if the siblings are to prevail on the theory that Arnold intended to create an oral express trust, the siblings must not only overcome this ambiguous finding of fact, they must also establish one of the other circumstances set forth in section 45 of the Restatement of Trusts. They urge us to find that Donald stood in a confidential relationship with respect to Arnold. There are some findings of fact-relating to Arnold’s deteriorating health, his anxiety regarding welfare coverage, and Donald’s role in the property transfer-that may support the conclusion that Donald and Arnold had a confidential relationship. But there are also findings of fact that suggest otherwise-LaRell and Dwayne both occupied positions of trust vis a vis their father and participated in discussions about how best to handle the land transfer. The trial court’s conclusions of law do not address whether Donald’s relationship with his father met our standard for a confidential relationship. Further, unresolved issues remain regarding the terms of the trust, including how Arnold’s interest would have descended after his death.


¶40 We decline to address these questions for the first time on appeal. It is sufficient for our purposes to say that the court of appeals erred when it concluded that the siblings’ failure to prove an oral express trust necessarily precluded a finding in their favor under a theory of unjust enrichment. Because the two claims may be pursued independently, we need not determine whether the trial court’s findings might support a claim under section 45 of the Restatement of Trusts. Rather, as will be discussed below, the court of appeals erred in reversing the trial court’s finding of unjust enrichment and its imposition of a constructive trust as a means of remedying this unjust enrichment.


III. The Court of Appeals Erred in Holding That Donald Was Not Unjustly Enriched By the Contributions His Siblings Made To the Farm Property Over Several Decades


¶41 The court of appeals held that because Donald was the transferee under a deed, his acceptance of his siblings’ contributions to the land could not be unjust. In so holding, the court of appeals erred. The standard for determining whether a person has been unjustly enriched requires a court to determine whether the defendant accepted and retained benefits conferred by the plaintiff under such circumstances as to make it inequitable for the defendant to retain those benefits without compensating the plaintiff.


¶42 The court of appeals’ conclusion does not adequately take into consideration the circumstances under which Donald accepted many of the benefits conferred by his siblings. As found by the trial court, the reason the siblings continued to work on the trust property after Arnold’s death was that Donald led them to believe it was their “Mother’s farm.” Dwayne paid $1,000 in property taxes with the understanding that Arnold needed the money. He did not intend to pay off taxes on land that would soon be owned by Donald. And when the siblings relinquished their interests via the 1978 quitclaim deed and contributed other parcels of land to the farm property, they did so with the understanding that they were assisting in clearing up title problems so that Donald could litigate the dispute on their behalf. The trial court found all of these benefits, along with “other benefits from the use and negotiations relative to the trust property,” to be conferred under circumstances that gave rise to unjust enrichment.


¶43 We hold that these findings were sufficient to support the trial court’s imposition of a constructive trust. The first element of a claim for unjust enrichment-that the siblings confer a benefit on Donald-has clearly been met. Further, as to the second element, there can be no doubt that Donald was aware of these benefits. He acknowledged in his testimony that he knew that all of the siblings were contributing to the maintenance of the farm property even though he was not. He redistributed small amounts of the settlement proceeds to his siblings while keeping the bulk for himself. And he prompted Dwayne to pay $1,000 toward the property taxes and made no attempt to return the money after Arnold executed the deed purporting to transfer the land to Donald.


¶44 The dispute in this case centers on the third element of a claim for unjust enrichment. The trial court found that, for decades, Donald represented to his siblings that the farm property was being used to support their mother. Their contributions to the farm’s operation were made because they believed these representations. Arnold’s management of the farm in the years prior to his death reinforced the idea that the farm was considered a family farm.


¶45 In a manner consistent with our precedent, we decline to weigh for ourselves the relative equities of these actions. In Jeffs v. Stubbs, we announced our rationale for granting trial courts broad discretion in imposing constructive trusts to remedy unjust enrichment. The reasons for granting broad discretion articulated in Jeffs play an important role in this case. First, determining whether the circumstances surrounding the parties’ interactions were inequitable is a fact-intensive process for which trial courts are uniquely suited. The nature of this equitable determination requires balancing the ramifications of an entire course of conduct. The trial court, having heard all of the evidence in context, is in the best position to undertake this balancing. Second, cases of unjust enrichment require the trial judge to “observe[ ] ‘facts,’ such as a witness’s appearance and demeanor, relevant to the application of the law that cannot be adequately reflected in the record available to appellate courts.” We are keenly aware that trial courts are in the best position to make determinations about credibility and veracity. This is especially the case where, as here, the legal standard being applied requires the court to determine what is equitable. We are also mindful that all of these observations will not necessarily be included in the record on appeal.


¶46 The court of appeals’ decision does not appropriately defer to the trial court’s judgment with regard to the claim for unjust enrichment. Specifically, the court of appeals concluded that the trial court had grafted equitable considerations into its inquiry regarding Arnold’s intent to create an oral express trust. But in so concluding, the court of appeals rejected the theory of unjust enrichment as a valid, alternative, and independent theory on which the trial court’s imposition of a constructive trust could legitimately rest.


¶47 Further, the court of appeals concluded that “the only wrongful act alleged by the Siblings is [Donald’s] failure to comply with Arnold’s expressed intentions.” But this clearly conflicts with the trial court’s findings regarding the siblings’ contributions to the farm property and their understanding that Donald was acting in their interests. Even if Donald was the legitimate owner of this property at all times after the 1967 transfer, he was not unequivocally entitled to retain the fruits of his siblings’ labor on the farm, the amount of tax payments Dwayne made with the understanding they would be used for Arnold’s benefit, the value of the property transferred under the siblings’ quitclaim deeds, the settlement proceeds from the 1978 dispute that were retained by Donald, and contributions by the siblings of other property to Donald.


¶48 Jeffs is instructive on this point as well. In that case, the United Effort Plan Trust (the “UEP”) owned title to land. Members of a religious group affiliated with the trust were permitted to occupy the land. The UEP encouraged these occupants to make improvements to the land by leading them to believe they could occupy the land for their lifetimes. After they were removed from the land, the occupants brought a number of claims, including claims for unjust enrichment, against the UEP. The UEP defended on the grounds that, because the occupants knew the UEP held title to the land when they made improvements, it was not unjust for the UEP to keep those improvements even after the occupants were no longer permitted to reside on the land. Relying on the Restatement of Restitution, we rejected the UEP’s position, and held that “an owner ‘cannot retain a benefit which knowingly he has permitted another to confer upon him by mistake.’ ” The Restatement position carries even more force in this case because here, unlike in Jeffs the siblings did not know for decades that Donald claimed title to the land. Put simply, even if the court of appeals correctly concluded that Donald owned the farm property, this did not insulate Donald’s conduct from being inequitable.


¶49 Thus, the court of appeals erred in reversing the trial court’s judgment that Donald had been unjustly enriched. The trial court found that a number of benefits had been conferred on Donald by the siblings because of the siblings’ understanding that the land was being used as a family farm. Rather than assert his ownership of the land, Donald accepted and retained these benefits. Given the broad discretion that we afford trial courts when they apply the law to the facts in unjust enrichment cases, we hold that the court of appeals erred in reversing the trial court’s judgment. The trial court’s legal conclusion was not absolutely precluded as the court of appeals determined, but was adequately supported. We therefore reverse the judgment of the court of appeals, and affirm the trial court’s imposition of a constructive trust in favor of the siblings.




¶50 We hold that the trial court acted within the bounds of its discretion in imposing a constructive trust in favor of the siblings. Unjust enrichment is a cause of action separate from an attempt to prove the existence of an oral express trust. Thus, even if the siblings have failed to prove the existence of an oral express trust in this case, something we assume without deciding, they were still free to pursue their claim of unjust enrichment as an independent cause of action. The trial court explicitly found that Donald had been unjustly enriched, and numerous of its factual findings support that judgment. Given the broad discretion that must necessarily be afforded trial courts when they apply the law of unjust enrichment to the facts of a given case, we disagree with the court of appeals’ conclusion that imposition of a constructive trust was not an available or appropriate remedy in this case. The judgment of the court of appeals is therefore reversed.


Notes, Questions and Problems


1. Students often confuse resulting trusts with constructive trusts. Both types of trusts are remedial. One way to distinguish the types of trust is to focus upon the testator’s intent. In a case involving a resulting trust, the court’s focus is on the actions of the trustee. If the trustee acted as if he intended to create a trust, the court will act to carry out that intent. Once the court finds a resulting trust, the trustee must surrender the property to the beneficial owner upon demand. When deciding whether or not to establish a constructive trust, the court evaluates the actions of the person who is in possession of the disputed property. If that person has wrongfully acquired the property the court will create a constructive trust. The court deems the property to be held in trust. The court considers the person unjustly holding the property to be the trustee, and the person to whom the property rightfully belongs to be the beneficiary.


2. Some courts hold that the constructive trust arises at the time the property is unjustly obtained. Other courts have concluded that the constructive trust occurs only after the beneficiary seeks a constructive trust and the court grants the relief. What are the pros and cons of each approach?


3. Problems


Label each of the following examples as a resulting trust or a constructive trust.


a). Olivia texted Thomas and told him she wanted to give him her house to hold in trust for the benefit of her daughter, Melinda. Thomas texted her back and agreed to serve as the trustee.


b). Paige executed a will containing the following language, “I leave the residuary of my estate to Milena in trust for the benefit of my favorite actor.”


c) When Gail was a teenager, she put her baby girl up for adoption. Twenty years later, Rosalinda came to Gail and claimed to be her birth daughter. Gail and Rosalinda developed a relationship. Thus, Gail executed a will containing the following provision, “I leave $500,000 to First Bank to hold in trust for my daughter, Rosalinda.” After Gail’s death, her children received evidence that Rosalinda was a con woman who had lied about being Gail’s birth daughter.


d) Raymond believed that his daughter, Lisa, was possessed by the devil because she liked to gamble. Consequently, Raymond executed a will containing the following provision: “I leave my entire establish to City Bank in trust for the benefit of the Church of Peace in order that the demon can be cast out of my daughter, Lisa. After Lisa is demon-free, I would like her to become a beneficiary of the trust.”


NOTE: Secret and Semisecret Trusts


Under some circumstances, courts have used constructive trusts to rectified unjust enrichment that may result from a secret trust. For example, in her will, the testator makes an outright gift to a third party and does not indicate the existence of a trust. However, prior to the execution of the will, the third party agrees that he would hold the property in trust for another person. This is considered a secret trust, so the court will admit outside information to enforce the trust and prevent unjust enrichment. The facts of a semisecret trust are different. In that case, in her will, the testator makes an outright gift to a third party, and indicates in the will that the third party is to keep the gift in trust, but does not name the beneficiaries in the will. This semisecret trust will fail for lack of beneficiaries. Since the trust would fail, the third party would have no interest in the gift. Thus, a constructive trust is unnecessary to prevent the third party from being unjustly enriched.


Example 1-Ruth’swill contained the following language: “I leave $100,000 to Peter.” Ruth told her friend, Bonnie that she was leaving $100,000 to Peter to keep in trust for Bonnie. The court will allow in oral testimony to prove the trust, so that Peter will not be unjustly enriched.


Example 2- Ruth’s will contained the following language: “I leave $100,000 to Peter in trust for people I told Bonnie about.” The court will not allow in Bonnie’s oral testimony because the trust has been proven by the will, so there is no danger of unjust enrichment. The trust fails for lack of beneficiaries and money reverts back to Ruth’s estate to be distributed accordingly.


Olliffee v. Wells, 130 Mass. 221




Upon the face of this will the residuary bequest to the defendant gives him no beneficial interest. It expressly requires him to distribute all the property bequeathed to him, giving him no discretion upon the question whether he shall or shall not distribute it, or shall or shall not carry out the intentions of the testatrix, but allowing him a discretionary authority as to the manner only in which the property shall be distributed pursuant to her intentions. The will declares a trust too indefinite to be carried out, and the next of kin of the testatrix must take by way of resulting trust, unless the facts agreed show such a trust for the benefit of others as the court can execute. Nichols v. Allen, 130 Mass. 211. No other written instrument was signed by the testatrix, and made part of the will by reference, as in Newton v. Seaman’s Friend Society, 130 Mass. 91.


The decision of the case therefore depends upon the effect of the fact, stated in the defendant’s answer, and admitted by the plaintiffs to be true, that the testatrix, before and at the time of and after the execution of the will, orally made known to the defendant her wish and intention that the residue should be disposed of and distributed by him as executor of her will for charitable uses and purposes, according to his discretion and judgment, and directed him so to dispose of and distribute it, especially expressing her desire as to the objects to be preferred, all which objects, taking the whole direction together, may be assumed to be charitable in the legal sense.


In any view of the authorities it is quite clear, and is hardly denied by the defendant’s counsel, that intentions not formed by the testatrix and communicated to the defendant before the making of the will could not have any effect against her next of kin. Thayer v. Wellington, 9 Allen 283 Johnson v. Ball, 5 De Gex & Sm. 85. Moss v. Cooper, 1 Johns. & Hem. 352. But assuming, as the defendant contends, that all the directions of the testatrix set forth in the answer are to be taken as having been orally communicated to the defendant and assented to by him before the execution of the will, we are of opinion that the result must be the same.


It has been held in England and in other States, although the question has never arisen in this Commonwealth, that, if a person procures an absolute devise or bequest to himself by orally promising the testator that he will convey the property to or hold it for the benefit of third persons, and afterwards refuses to perform his promise, a trust arises out of the confidence reposed in him by the testator and of his own fraud, which a court of equity, upon clear and satisfactory proof of the facts, will enforce against him at the suit of such third persons. (citations omitted).


Upon like grounds, it has been held in England that, if a testator devises or bequeaths property to his executors upon trusts not defined in the will, but which, as he states in the will, he has communicated to them before its execution, such trusts, if for lawful purposes, may be proved by the admission of the executors, or by oral evidence, and enforced against them?? Crook v. Brooking, 2 Vern. 50,106. Pring v. Pring, 2 Vern?? 99. Smith v. Attersoll, 1 Russ. 266. And in two or three comparatively recent cases it has been held that such trusts may be enforced against the heirs or next of kin of the testator, as well as against the devisee. Shadwell, V. C., in Podmore v. Gunning, 5 Sim. 485, and 7 Sim. 644. Chatterton, V. C., in Riordan v. Banon, Ir. R. 10 Eq. 469. Hall, V. C., in Fleetwood’s case, 15 Ch. D. 594. But these cases appear to us to have overlooked or disregarded a fundamental distinction.


Where a trust not declared in the will is established by a court of chancery against the devisee, it is by reason of the obligation resting upon the conscience of the devisee, and not as a valid testamentary disposition by the deceased. Cullen v. Attorney General, L. R. 1 H. L. 190. Where the bequest is outright upon its face, the setting up of a trust, while it diminishes the right of the devisee, does not impair any right of the heirs or next of kin, in any aspect of the case; for if the trust were not set up, the whole property would go to the devisee by force of the devise; if the trust set up is a lawful one, it enures to the benefit of the cestuis que trust; and if the trust set up is unlawful, the heirs or next of kin take by way of resulting trust. Boson v. Statham, 1 Eden, 508; S. C. 1 Cox Ch. 16. Russell v. Jackson, 10 Hare, 204. Wallgrave v. Tebbs, 2 K. & J. 313.


Where the bequest is declared upon its face to be upon such trusts as the testator has otherwise signified to the devisee, it is equally clear that the devisee takes no beneficial interest; and, as between him and the beneficiaries intended, there is as much ground for establishing the trust as if the bequest to him were absolute on its face. But as between the devisee and the heirs or next of kin, the case stands differently. They are not excluded by the will itself. The will upon its face showing that the devisee takes the legal title only and not the beneficial interest, and the trust not being sufficiently defined by the will to take effect, the equitable interest goes, by way of resulting trust, to the heirs or next of kin, as property of the deceased, not disposed of by his will. Sears v. Hardy, 120 Mass. 524, 541, 542. They cannot be deprived of that equitable interest, which accrues to them directly from the deceased, by any conduct of the devisee; nor by any intention of the deceased, unless signified in those forms which the law makes essential to every testamentary disposition. A trust not sufficiently declared on the face of the will cannot therefore be set up by extrinsic evidence to defeat the rights of the heirs at law or next of kin. See Lewin on Trusts (3d ed.) 75.


By the statutes of the Commonwealth, no will (with certain exceptions not material to be here stated) “shall be effectual to pass any estate, whether real or personal, nor to charge or in any way affect the same,” unless signed by the testator and attested by three witnesses. Rev. Sts. c. 62, § 6. Gen. Sts. c. 92, § 6.


In Thayer v. Wellington, 9 Allen 283 the testator by his will bequeathed to Hastings and Wellington $15,000 “in trust to appropriate the same in such manner as I may by any instrument under my hand direct and appoint,” and nominated Hastings executor, and made a residuary bequest to him in trust for the benefit of certain persons named. The testator also signed a paper, dated the same day as the will, referring to it, and addressed to Hastings and Wellington, directing them to pay over the $15,000 to the city of Cambridge for the support of a public library; and they, after the death of the testator, signified in writing to the city their intention of so paying it when they should receive it from the executor. After the death of Hastings, upon a bill in equity by the administrator de bonis non for instructions, to which Wellington, the city, the cestuis que trust, and the heirs at law of the testator, were made parties, the court held that the clause in the will, the paper signed by the testator but not attested as required by the statute of wills, and the assent in writing of the trustees, gave the city no right to the fund; and that the heirs at law or next of kin would have been entitled to it, but for its being included in the residuary bequest.


It appears in the report on file, upon which that case was reserved for the determination of the full court, that an attorney at law testified that he drew up both the will and the paper at the request of Hastings, and delivered both drafts to him; and that Wellington testified that the paper was handed to him by Hastings after the testator’s death. Those facts would, according to the cases of Crook v. Brooking and Smith v. Attersoll, above cited, and which were relied on in the argument for the city of Cambridge, have been sufficient evidence of an assent by Hastings before the execution of the will, and, according to the decision of Vice Chancellor Wood in Tee v. Ferris, 2 K. & J. 357, would have entitled the city to enforce the trust against both trustees. Yet the court did not treat them as of any weight as between the surviving trustee and the city on the one hand, and the next of kin or the residuary legatees on the other, but merely observed that it did not appear at what time the paper was placed by the testator in the hands of Hastings. 9 Allen 288.


Decree for the plaintiffs.


3.2.3. Honorary Trusts



An honorary trust arises when a testator attempts to leave a large sum of money to a pet. This money is not left to someone to care for the pet. The testator actually leaves the money directly to the pet. Since a pet is incapable of inheriting, the court invalidates the bequest to the pet. However, in order to carry out the testator’s intent to make sure that the pet is take care of properly, the court will create an honorary trust over the property that was left to the pet. Unlike a charitable trust for a group of animals or a bequest to the SPSA, a honorary trust comes into play when a bequest is made to provide for a specific animal or object. In addition to the care of a pet, honorary trusts may be created for the preservation of tombs, monuments, or graves, and for the saying of masses or the erecting of a statutes. This trust is deemed to be honorary because it is binding on the conscience of the trustee. The beneficiary is unable to demand an accounting from the trustee, so the trustee must act on his or her honor. The honorary trust is not enforceable by an identifiable beneficiary, but it is treated as valid so long as the trustee chooses to carry out the trust purpose. As the next case illustrates, when and if the trustee no longer wishes to do so, the trust terminates and the court will create a resulting trust.


Phillips v. Estate of Holzmann, 740 So. 2d 1




Jo Ellen Phillips (“appellant”) appeals an order requiring her to return $25,000.00, paid to her under Marie M. Holzmann’s (the “testator”) will, to the testator’s estate. We affirm because the appellant received the $25,000.00 in trust for a specific non-charitable purpose and that purpose no longer exists.


In her will, the testator left $25,000.00 to her “beloved friend,” the appellant, “for the care and shelter of [her] two dogs, Riley and Shaun.” Shortly after the testator’s death, however, Riley and Shaun were put to sleep for health reasons. Due to this turn of events, the testator’s parents petitioned to have the $25,000.00 returned to the estate.


The trial court concluded that the appellant received the $25,000.00 as an “honorary trust” and that the honorary trust failed when the dogs were put to sleep. Upon failure, the court determined, the trust became a “resulting trust” for the benefit of the estate’s residual beneficiaries. We agree with the trial court’s analysis.


The polestar in construing any will is to ascertain the intent of the testator. See West v. Francioni, 488 So.2d 571 (Fla.3d DCA 1986); Hulsh v. Hulsh, 431 So.2d 658 (Fla.3d DCA 1983), review denied, 440 So.2d 352 (Fla. 1983). Here, the testator unambiguously directed that the money was for the benefit of her dogs, not the appellant. She, thus, intended to establish an honorary trust. See In re Searight’s Estate.; Dep’t of Taxation of Ohio v. Miller, Ohio App. 417, 95 N.E. 2d 779 (1950); Restatement (Second) of Trusts § 124 cmt. d (1959); John G. Grimsley, Florida Law of Trusts 18-2 (4th ed.1993).


A trust of this sort is not a true trust. See e.g. The Fidelity Title and Trust Co. v. Clyde, 143 Conn. 247, 121 A.2d 625 (1956). It does not conform to the time-honored requirement that there be a beneficiary capable of enforcing its terms. See The Fidelity Title and Trust Co. v. Clyde, 121 A.2d at 630. Nonetheless, the American Law Institute takes the position that the transferee has the power to apply the property to the designated purpose, but cannot be compelled to do so. See Restatement (Second) of Trusts § 124 (1959). If the transferee does not apply the property to its designated purpose, she holds it upon a resulting trust for the settlor or the settlor’s estate. See Restatement (Second) of Trusts §§ 124 b; 418 cmt. b (1959). We adopt the American Law Institute’s position regarding honorary trusts.


Because the testator’s dogs were put to sleep, the appellant/transferee could not apply the $25,000.00 to the designated purpose. A resulting trust was thereby created and the trial court properly ordered the appellant to return the property to the estate. The judgment is affirmed in all respects.




Honorary trusts were the common law solution to the ‘rich pet” dilemma. Currently, many states have codified the honorary trust. The following statute is a typical example.


McKinney’s EPTL § 7-8.1 Trusts for Pets


(a) A trust for the care of a designated domestic or pet animal is valid. The intended use of the principal or income may be enforced by an individual designated for that purpose in the trust instrument or, if none, by an individual appointed by a court upon application to it by an individual, or by a trustee. Such trust shall terminate when the living animal beneficiary or beneficiaries of such trust are no longer alive.


(b) Except as expressly provided otherwise in the trust instrument, no portion of the principal or income may be converted to the use of the trustee or to any use other than for the benefit of all covered animals.


(c) Upon termination, the trustee shall transfer the unexpended trust property as directed in the trust instrument or, if there are no such directions in the trust instrument, the property shall pass to the estate of the grantor.


(d) A court may reduce the amount of the property transferred if it determines that amount substantially exceeds the amount required for the intended use. The amount of the reduction, if any, passes as unexpended trust property pursuant to paragraph (c) of this section.


(e) If no trustee is designated or no designated trustee is willing or able to serve, a court shall appoint a trustee and may make such other orders and determinations as are advisable to carry out the intent of the transferor and the purpose of this section.


Class Discussion Tool


Stacie and Abigail met while they were in medical school and became best friends. Years later, Stacie and her husband, Robert, were involved in an ugly divorce. Stacie wanted to make sure that Robert did not get an interest in her vacation home. Thus, Stacie quitclaimed the vacation home to Abigail. Abigail promised to return the vacation home to Stacie once the divorce was final. At that time, Stacie also put $500,000 and a house in a revocable trust for the benefit of her children, Mitchell and LaTrell. Stacie selected Abigail to be trustee of the revocable trust. Stacie kept the $500,000 in her bank account. Stacie mailed Abigail a picture of the house that was to be part of the corpus of the trust. After Stacie’s divorce was final, she discovered that Abigail was having an affair with Robert. The women had a big fight, and Abigail refused to return the vacation home to Stacie. What are the legal issues that arise from the fact pattern?


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