Constructive Trust

The written laws of the United States exist to deliver justice. Unfortunately, in some situations, one party may act in a way that is technically legal, but clearly unfair. In those cases where state or federal statutes do not provide a remedy for the injured party, equitable remedies such as “constructive trust” may be the only recourse. Equitable remedies are those which are in the discretion of a court to right a wrong that has been done to one party and prevent the other party from being unjustly enriched.

The Law Offices of Andreas Vasilatos, PLLC represents clients in constructive trust matters in New York, creating a path to justice where statutory law does not provide one.

What is a Constructive Trust?

A constructive trust is not a written document like trusts used in estate planning. Instead, it is a legal relationship that arises when one party legally holds property that it would be inequitable for them to retain against another party’s interests.

For example, imagine that two sisters, Ann and Betty, own a business together. When Ann discovers she has a terminal illness, she decides to transfer her interest in the business to her young adult daughter Carol. Betty assures her, in front of family members, that if she transfers her interest to Betty instead, Betty will manage the business until Carol is old enough to take over and give her half of the income in the meantime. In reliance on Betty’s assurances, Ann transfers her interest to Betty.

Unfortunately, after Ann’s death, Betty refuses to honor her promise to Ann. She does not transfer an interest in the business to Carol, nor does she give her any of the income that Ann would have received when she was alive. Legally, the business is Betty’s to do with as she wishes. But that result is unfair; if Ann had not relied on Betty’s promise, Carol would be a co-owner and receive half of the income from the business.

Carol can ask a court to determine that Betty holds half of the business in “constructive trust” for her, forcing her to relinquish a half-interest in the company and the income it has earned to Carol.

Requirements for a Constructive Trust in New York

The purpose of a constructive trust is to prevent one party from being unjustly enriched at another’s expense. In New York, in order to prove a constructive trust, the injured party must prove:

  • A confidential or fiduciary relationship, such that one party would rely on the other to act in their best interests;
  • A promise, either express or implied;
  • A transfer made in reliance on that promise; and
  • Unjust enrichment of one party.

All of the above elements must be proven by “clear and convincing” evidence, which is a higher burden of proof than the “preponderance of the evidence” standard in many civil cases. In other words, the party making the claim cannot simply prove the facts they allege are “more likely than not” true; they must show that the elements of the claim are clearly met.

Proving the elements of a constructive trust is difficult. These claims are extremely fact-dependent, and it is essential to bring exactly the right evidence before the court so that a judge or jury will have what it needs to reach a just result. In addition, constructive trust claims are relatively uncommon, as they come into play only when there is no other legal remedy available. It is important to work with an attorney who understands the nuances of this type of claim.

The attorneys of the Law Offices of Andreas Vasilatos have a track record of success with constructive trust claims. The firm’s attorneys are all highly experienced litigators. They have not only the courtroom experience needed for these complex cases, but a strong commitment to achieving justice for their clients.

Work with an Experienced New York Constructive Trust Attorney

The Law Offices of Andreas Vasilatos, PLLC has two convenient locations: in Bayside, Queen, and at 7 World Trade Center in Manhattan. The firm serves clients in all five boroughs of New York City as well as Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester Counties. We invite you to learn more about our firm and our team, and to contact us to schedule a consultation. We look forward to working with you.