Trusts

During the early 1500’s in England landowners found it advantageous to convey the legal title of their land to third parties while retaining the benefits of ownership. Because they were not the real “owners” of the land, and wealth was primarily measured by the amount of land owned, they were immune from creditors and may have absolved themselves of some feudal obligations. While feudal concerns no longer exist and wealth is held in many forms other than land (i.e., stocks, bonds, bank accounts), the idea of placing property in third party hands for the benefit of another. This is the idea of a trust which has survived and prospered.

Generally, a trust is a right in property (real or personal) which is held in a fiduciary relationship by one party for the benefit of another. The trustee is the one who holds title to the trust property, and the beneficiary is the person who receives the benefits of the trust. To understand the laws governing trusts a good starting point is the Restatement (2nd) of Trusts.

Many trusts are created as an alternative to or in conjunction with a will and other elements of estate planning. State law establishes the framework for determining the validity and limits for both.

The Uniform Probate Code has shaped state law in this field. It includes provisions dealing with affairs and estates of the deceased and laws dealing with specified nontestamentary transfers, like trusts and their administration. The theory behind the Code is that wills and trusts are in close relationship and thus in need of unification. Since its creation, over thirty percent of states have adopted the Code substantially in whole.

Since many individuals neither set up trusts nor execute wills, state intestate succesion laws are an important complement to trust and estate law. They determine where an individual’s assets go upon death in the absence of a will.

Real Estate Transactions

Real estate transactions are governed by a wide body of federal statutes and state statutory and common law. The requirements established by state law often differ significantly from one state to the next.

Real estate brokers are employed as the agent of the seller in order to obtain a buyer for their property. The contract between the broker and seller is called a listing agreement. The agreement may be an open agreement where by the broker earns a commission only if he or she finds a buyer. A listing is exclusive if the broker is the only agent entitled to a commission for finding a buyer. Under an exclusive arrangement a broker may be entitled to a payment even if the seller finds the buyer without the brokers aid. Real estate brokers and salesperson are licensed and regulated by local state laws.Professional organizations may also provide further guidelines.

The Federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in real estate transactions on account of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Real estate brokers are specifically prohibited from discriminating by the act.

The agreement to sell between a buyer and seller of real estate is governed by the general principles of contract law. The Statute of Frauds requires that contracts for real property be in writing.

It is commonly required in real estate contracts that the title to the property sold be marketable. This requires that the seller have proof of title to all the property he or she is selling and that third parties not have undisclosed interests in the title.