Unthank v. Rippstein
386 S.W.2d 134 (1964)

  • Craft wrote a letter to Rippstein. It offered to pay Rippstein $200 a month every month for the next five years. Craft also said that his estate was bound to make the payments.
  • Craft died. Rippstein went to the Probate Court and asked them to probate the letter as a codicil to Craft’s will.
  • The Probate Court held that the letter was not a valid testamentary instrument. Rippstein appealed.
    • The letter didn’t meet the standard for formalities or intentionalities.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed.
  • Rippstein went back and sued the executor of Craft’s estate (Unthank) to enforce the letter as a contract.
  • The Trial Court found for Unthank in summary judgment. Rippstein appealed.
  • The Appellate Court reversed. Unthank appealed.
    • The Appellate Court found that the letter established a voluntary trust under which Craft bound his property to the extent of the promised payments.
  • The Texas Supreme Court reversed the Appellate Court and found for Unthank.
    • The Texas Supreme Court found that the plain language of the letter could not be construed to say that Craft was creating a trust.
      • If it had been a trust, and Craft missed a payment, Rippstein would be able to sue him for breach of fiduciary duty as a trustee and conversion for wrongful possession of another’s property.
    • The Court also found that you can’t have a trust unless there is money put aside (aka the corpus). The $200 per month needed to come from a pile of money, and nothing in the will or the letter did anything that could be construed to have created a corpus.
      • In theory, Craft would need to have put aside $200 x 12 x 5 = $12,000 available, and there was no evidence he had done so.
    • The Court found that there are three requirements to create a valid trust:
      • The words of the testator must be construed as imperative and imposing on the trustee as obligation.
      • The subject to which the obligation relates must be certain.
      • The person intended to be the beneficiary under the trust must be certain.
    • Furthermore, the Court found that Craft’s letter could not be considered a contract because there was no consideration on Rippstein’s part. If anything, the $200 would be construed as a promise and promises can be rescinded at any time.
  • The basic rule is that in order for a trust to be valid, the money in the trust must be identifiable. The money must be explicitly put aside, it can’t be assumed that money should just be taken from ‘somewhere’.