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Legal and beneficial ownership and constructive trusts

The Court of Appeal case Oates v Stimson [2006] EWCA Civ 548 highlights the need for advisers when ascertaining parties' interests to consider not only the legal and beneficial ownership of a property but also the potential for a constructive trust to exist.

The case concerned how the equity should be split between two legal owners of a house. The parties had previously reached an oral agreement for Mr Oates to sell his interest to Mr Stimson, whereby the latter met all the outgoings and paid for certain improvements over an eight year period, despite not formalising the sale.

Although the Law of Property (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1989 requires a sale of an interest in land to be in writing, the Court of Appeal decided that the conduct of the parties had created a
constructive trust, "rendering it unconscionable not to permit him to enforce the oral agreement".

Therefore, if a debtor falls on hard times and the spouse continues to pay all the property outgoings over time, you need to look deeper than mere legal and assumed beneficial ownership when exploring their respective positions. Is there an earlier oral agreement and a course of conduct between them that affects their interests, and thus their available solutions?



Date: 2nd June, 2008
Author: Steve Smith


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