Wills, Trusts, and Estates, Pages 414–416

Upthank v. Rippstein

Supreme Court of Texas, 1964

Facts:

Decedent wrote a letter saying he would send respondent $200 per month for five years, as long as he lived. He then wrote on the opposite page that he struck out "provided I live that long" and that he bound his estate to make the payments. He then died unexpectedly three days later.

Procedural History:

Respondent tried and fail to probate the writing as a holographic codicil to the decedent's will. She then sued under a different theory.

Issue:

Did decedent's note create a trust?

Respondent's Argument:

Decedent's note was a declaration of trust that established a trust under which he bound his property to the extent of the promised payments. (Because only the ~$52,000 that $200/month can be calculated to result in would have a different beneficiary. Although initially all of decedent's property would be in trust, the remaining 90% of the decedent's estate would merge back to his estate.)

Procedural History:

  • Trial court granted summary judgment to petitioners.

  • Court of Civil Appeals reversed, holding that it did create a voluntary trust to the extent of the promised payments.

Reasoning:

Respondent has a good argument. However, if decedent intended to create a trust with this language, he would have also bound himself in life, and respondent could have sued him if he himself disposed of property such that he could no longer make the payments. He never said that he intended this, and it cannot be inferred from the language he did write.

Thus, he only expressed an unenforceable promise to give the money while he lived and a desire that his estate would make the payments after he died. This cannot be made into a trust and is not legally enforceable.

Holding:

No, decedent's not did not create a trust. Reversed.

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