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What is a Constructive Trust?

A constructive trust is an equitable remedy utilized to prevent a party from unjust enrichment. This remedy is used when a person has wrongfully acquired legal title to property thereby depriving a party who is rightfully entitled to it from acquiring it.

There are four elements which characterize a constructive trust:
(1) a confidential or fiduciary relationship;
(2) a promise;
(3) a transfer in reliance thereon; and
(4) unjust enrichment.

Constructive trusts are implemented in a variety of situations in which equity demands that it be imposed. The landmark case on point is Latham v. Father Divine, 299 N.Y.22 (1949). In Latham, the decedent left her estate to Father Divine, a leader of a religious group. The testator’s first cousins sought to have a constructive trust imposed arguing that Father Divine defrauded the testator, unduly influenced her, and eventually killed her. They said the testator expressed a desire on several occasions to include them as beneficiaries in her will and tried to do so shortly before she was killed by the religious group.

The Court held that where a “devisee or legatee under a will already executed prevents the testator by fraud, duress or undue influence from revoking the will and executing a new will in favor of another or from making a codicil, so that the testator dies leaving the original will in force, the devisee or legatee holds the property thus acquired upon a constructive trust for the intended devisee or legatee.”

Latham is only one type of scenario where a constructive trust would be an appropriately sought remedy. If you think that your loved one was a victim of undue influence, misrepresentation or fraud, contact the Law Offices of Albert Goodwin at 718-509-9774 to see if a constructive trust can be applied in your situation.