Law School Case Brief
Cherniack v. Home Nat'l Bank & Tr. Co. - 151 Conn. 367, 198 A.2d 58 (1964)
Under Connecticut statute law neither husband nor wife acquires, by virtue of the marriage, any interest in the real or personal property of the other during that other's lifetime. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46-9. Either spouse may, in his lifetime, without the consent or knowledge of the other, make a valid gift, or otherwise dispose of his property, to a third party. Under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46-12 a surviving spouse is given a stated interest in all of the property, real and personal, legally or equitably owned by the other at the time of his or her death. But the provision gives no interest in the property of the other before death. One cannot be defrauded of that to which he has no right.
On August 8, 1957, the decedent executed a trust indenture with the defendant bank as trustee. The decedent turned over to the trustee, as the trust corpus, nearly $ 200,000 worth of assets, which represented the bulk of his property. The trust indenture, which was subject to amendment or revocation at any time by the decedent, provided for the payment to him of the net income during his lifetime, and further provided that upon his death the income should be paid to such of his brothers as were then alive, and upon the death of the survivor of them, the corpus should be distributed in equal shares to the children of his brothers. Subsequently, on August 14, 1957, the decedent executed a will, of which the defendant bank was the executor, under which the decedent gave his wife the use for life of their home, and one-third of the residue of his estate, outright and absolutely. The wife knew nothing of the trust indenture until shortly after her husband’s death. Thereafter, the wife instituted the present action, claiming that the trust agreement was invalid and void on two basic grounds. Firstly, the trust was invalid as an attempted testamentary disposition. Secondly, it was asserted by the wife that the trust was in fraud of her rights in and to her husband’s estate.
Was the trust indenture fraudulent or void as to the wife?
The court concluded that under Connecticut law, the trust was not invalid as an attempted testamentary disposition. In support, the court held that because the wife had no right or interest in the property of the decedent during his lifetime, a valid trust agreement could not be fraudulent as to her. According to the court, one could not be defrauded of that to which he had no right. The court also found that the letter written by the decedent to his attorney was tantamount to the expression of a desire to reduce the value of his estate in which the wife would have, upon his death, acquired a statutory interest. However, the court pointed out that the wife had no interest, statutory or otherwise, in the decedent's property during his lifetime, and no effective disposition of it, even though made with intent to reduce the value of her interest in his estate after his death, could have been fraudulent as to her or vulnerable to attack by her.
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