The Hebrew University Association v. Nye
148 Conn. 223, A.2d 641 (1961)

  • Yahuda and his wife Ethel owned a large number of rare books. The books were placed in a warehouse while the Yahudas looked for a University in Jerusalem to give them to.
    • At some point Mr. Yahuda died.
  • The Hebrew University Association (HUA) held a luncheon in their honor at which Ethel declared that she was giving the library to HUA.
    • On other occasions Ethel repeatedly made statements and took actions to the effect that HUA owned the library.
      • She never took a tax deduction on the donation.
  • Ethel was still cataloging its contents when she died.
  • Ethel bequeathed the bulk of her estate to another Jewish charitable institution. The executor (Nye) petitioned the court to determine who should get the library.
    • If the library was owned by HUA at the time of Ethel’s death, then they get it.
    • If Ethel still owned the library at the time of her death, then it goes with the rest of her estate.
  • The Trial Court found for HUA. Nye appealed.
    • The Trial Court found that the statements made by Ethel at the luncheon amounted to the creation of a trust.
  • The Connecticut Supreme Court vacated the judgment and ordered a new trial.
    • The Connecticut Supreme Court found that no trust had been created.
      • There was no evidence that Ethel had ever regarded herself as a trustee or assumed any enforceable duties with respect to the property.
      • Ethel’s actions were more consistent with an inter vivos gift made to HUA without any delivery.
    • From Property Law, a gift is only valid when there is an offer, an acceptance, and a delivery. Since there was no delivery, the library could not be considered to be a fully executed gift.
      • The Court said, “A gift which is imperfect for lack of delivery will not be turned into a declaration of a trust for no better reason than that it is imperfect for lack of delivery.”
    • The Court found that it could be argued that Ethel’s actions amounted to constructive delivery of the library, in which case it would be a valid inter vivos gift. The court remanded for a new trial to determine if constructive delivery had occurred.
      • Btw, upon remand, the Trial Court found that constructive delivery had indeed occurred, and so HUA got the books in the end.
  • The basic rule is that you can create a trust by making an oral declaration. However, there must be clear intent to create a trust, and not just give a gift.
    • You should never assume a trust has been created unless the donor has manifested an intention to impose upon themselves enforceable duties of a trust nature.
    • In order to create a trust the settlor must charge the trustee with ascertainable duties. It doesn’t necessarily matter what those duties are, but you have to impose upon a trustee some enforceable duties of a trust nature.