Strong v Bird

English Equity & Trusts

Strong v Bird
Image: ‘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.

Executors, Gifts and Trustees within English Succession Law

Academia

Executors, Gifts and Trustees in Succession Law
Image: ‘Reading the Will’ by Frederick William Elwell

Executors, Gifts and Trustees in Succession Law

Midland Bank Plc v Cooke

English Property Law

Midland Bank Plc v Cooke
Image: ‘Pillars of Deceit’ by Michael Lang

Note: To read about this case in greater depth, and with the benefit of full OSCOLA referencing, simply purchase a copy of ‘The Case Law Compendium: English & European Law’ at Amazon, Waterstones or Barnes & Noble (or go here for a full list of international outlets)


When two first-time homebuyers rely upon a financial donation from family members, the equality of shared ownership can become displaced, despite individual perceptions of common intention and the partnership of marriage.

When two young newlyweds entered into a mortgage of their family home, it was not without a significant cash contribution from the groom’s parents. This gift was bestowed upon the couple after the bride’s parents had covered the costs of the wedding, and therefore implied equal investment into their committed relationship. At the time of conveyance, the deeds fell under sole title in favour of the groom, and no assumptions were otherwise made than it was their home, and that both parties were joint occupants and thus entitled to equal benefits.

A few years after the purchase, the nature of the mortgage altered, and was now liable under the terms of an acquiring bank, at which point the wife was asked to sign away any beneficial interest she held in favour of the new mortgagee. Her agreement to this request was given (albeit under visible duress) so that the husband could continue to run his business, while the family (now with three children) could remain in secure occupation.

After re-mortgaging the property a number of years later, the wife took the opportunity to have her name included within the title, and thus became a legal tenant-in-common. When the business began to fail and the mortgage fell into unrecoverable default, the bank sought to repossess, at which point the wife challenged the order on grounds that any relinquishing of interest had not been of her volition, rather that her now estranged husband’s undue influence led her to act against her will and under marital obligation.

In the first hearing, the judge found in favour of the wife on the grounds described, before going further to explain that while her collective time and monies invested into the home during the course of their marriage could not translate into an equal half-share of the property, it did result in a six percent stake hold, arising from her half-share entitlement of the cash gifted by the groom’s parents at the point of purchase; and therefore under those circumstances, any repossession order could not stand.

When challenged by the bank and the wife in the Court of Appeal, the principle of shared equity was given greater consideration, along with the equitable maxim ‘equality is equity‘, which on this occasion was not relied upon. Instead, it was agreed that the wife’s actions first dismissed as non-contributory,  were embraced as wholly acceptable, despite no verbal agreements between the couple as to whether or not the home was equally divisible to begin with.