Strong v Bird (1874)

English Equity & Trusts

Strong v Bird
‘Debtor Night’ by Seminary Road

While English common law requires the perfecting of a gift through written documentation, the circumstances of that prerequisite can be somewhat altered when the moment calls. On this occasion, a testatrix was ultimately able to complete an oral debt release through the appointment of her debtor as an executor.

In 1866 the deceased was cohabiting with her son in-law when due to her sizeable wealth, she entered into an agreement whereby a significant amount of rent was paid on a quarterly basis, after which the defendant borrowed £1100, on the proviso that she deducted £100 per quarter until the balance owed was clear.

After only two payments, the deceased relinquished the debt, and explained that no further deductions were necessary. This evidence was supported both by his wife and from handwritten notes left on the cheque counterfoils used before her demise.

Upon her passing, the beneficiary to her will contested that the £900 unpaid, was now owed under law, as the cessation of the loan had not been committed to any form of written notice aside from the cheque stubs, which were deemed insubstantial as proof.

Relying upon the essence of equity, the court examined the context in which her wishes had been executed, and knowing the oral and notary testimony were insufficient to stand as perfect, her appointment of the defendant as executor to her will, was evidence enough, and that while:

“The law requires nothing more than this, that in a case where the thing which is the subject of donation is transferable or releasable at law, the legal transfer or release shall take place. The gift is not perfect until what has been generally called a change of the property at law has taken place.”

Thus the court held that the deceased, having made no express acknowledgement of a debt within her will, was proof enough that the gift was perfect, and that its absence created in the defendant, an absolute right to title of the £900, therefore no challenge could be made, equitably or otherwise. The court further noted that her further payments of full rent for a period of four years after the money had been loaned, showed again that she considered the sum paid in full, and so sought no recovery in death, as she might in life.

Milroy v Lord (1862)

English Equity & Trusts

Milroy v Lord
‘Louisiana Bayou’ by Joseph Rusling Meeker

When a man of standing sought to create a trust for the purposes of a relative’s benefit, he was careful enough to provide specific instructions to his trustee, but unfortunately erred in putting them into action.

A number of years after his death, the beneficiary challenged the assigned executor on grounds that his written desire for her to gain lawful receipt was sufficient enough to constitute an enforceable covenant and that the courts were inter alia wrong to deny it.

In 1852 the settlor drafted a deed-poll that enabled fifty shares of his stock held in the Louisiana Bank to be transferred to his associate (who had become his appointed trustee) on the proviso that under a number of specific conditions he was to hold the shares upon trust for the benefit of his beloved niece.

He also stipulated that during the time between his grant and the date of her marriage or his death, the trustee was to manage the trust and pay any profits arising from the dividend interest to the beneficiary.

During this period the settlor also granted the trustee power of attorney over all of his financial matters, and so while it was possible for the trustee to complete the request, he never managed to fully execute transferral under the banking practice policy, which required the participation of either the settlor himself or a qualified solicitor, and where neither was found, that the power of attorney rested not with the trustee but the bank.

In the first instance the presiding judge awarded that by virtue of the deed construction, a valid trust had existed, and that the fifty shares were to be reissued by the executor to the existing trustee, where they would be again held upon trust for the niece (as had been the case before the settlor’s death).

However under appeal the Court took the equitable view that a legally incomplete gesture cannot be enforced (equity will not perfect an imperfect gift), and so held that it was impossible for the settlor to become a self-appointed trustee for the shares discussed.

Rather it was declared that the funds were to be held upon trust by the executor until amendments could be made to the deed that provided for redistribution in the manner first intended, or until the trustee and beneficiary chose to take individual action against him, while the court reminded both parties that:

“[I]n order to render a voluntary settlement valid and effectual, the settler must have done everything which, according to the nature of the property comprised in the settlement, was necessary to be done in order to transfer the property and render the settlement binding upon him.”