‘Ambulatory’ constructive trust v post-acquisition agreement

There might be a common intention constructive trust where the parties have agreed that the precise apportionment of their respective beneficial interests is to be settled at some future date by reference to the course of dealings between them. This is not the same as the case where the parties have agreed on some particular apportionment and then, post-acquisition, agree to change this apportionment. Strong evidence will be needed of any such post-acquisition agreement.

In Chan Chui Mee v Mak Chi Choi ([2008] HKEC 1572) title to property was in the name of a husband. he had told his wife that it was to be ‘family property’. This was found to be evidence of an agreement that beneficial ownership was to be equally divided between them. The wife made some contributions to the mortgage payments and this provided the necessary reliance.

Speaking obiter Johnson Lam J said that strong evidence would be needed as to a post-acquisition agreement that someone was to have a beneficial interest in property or that the apportionment of beneficial ownership was to be altered. He also suggested that a post-acquisition variation of beneficial entitlements would not bind third parties. Thus, imagine that  A and B had been equally beneficially entitled and then (post-acquisition) they agreed that B was to have a 75% beneficial entitlement. This amounts to a disposal of 25% by A to B. As far as that 25% is concerned the interest of B would rank behind any interest acquired before the agreement concerning the change.

It would be otherwise if the parties had from the outset agreed that there was to be a constructive trust but that the precise beneficial entitlements would be calculated later by reference to the whole course of dealings. Here the priority date for the whole ‘ambulatory’ entitlement would be the date when the constructive trust arose.

Michael Lower

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