From time to time we publish summaries of interesting trust and estate cases.
In today’s post we discuss a recent Oregon Appeals Court case that addressed the availability of a constructive trust to remedy a breach of duty by a successor trustee. The case is a good illustration of the legal remedies available to beneficiaries who pursue claims against trustees behaving badly.
Olson v. Howard, 237 Or App 256, 239 P.3d 510, (2010)
Background: Plaintiff, the beneficiary of a trust, brought an action against the trustee and the purchaser of land from the trust, alleging that the purchase was the result of self-dealing by the trustee. The settlor of the trust had named himself trustee and appointed Howard as successor trustee. Howard, purporting to act as successor trustee, sold the property to his son, the defendant, for $55,000. Plaintiff contended that the fair market value of the property was actually $122,760. Moreover, defendant borrowed the money to purchase the property from his father, Howard. Seven years after the sale, plaintiff filed claims against both defendant and Howard, alleging that Howard acted unlawfully when he essentially sold the trust property to himself for grossly inadequate consideration, and that defendant knowingly and willfully acted as a strawman in the transaction. Plaintiff then sought return of the property to the trust, a resale of the land, and distribution of the proceeds of that sale to the trust beneficiaries. The trial court dismissed the case after finding that plaintiff failed to provide an “objectively reasonable” basis for his claim.
Holding: The trial court erred in determining that plaintiff’s contentions were devoid of factual and legal support. Plaintiff’s claim sought the imposition of a constructive trust, which would be available to him upon showing that the defendant possessed property that should belong to the trust as a result of the property being transferred without authority, by a self-interested party, and without sufficient consideration. Moreover, the fact that plaintiff had signed a release as a trust beneficiary relinquishing all claims against the trustee or trust did not prohibit his claim, as the release did not bar claims against the defendant. The case was remanded to the lower court.