An equitable assignment is one in which one has a future interest and is not valid at law but valid in a court of equity. In National Bank of Republic v. United Sec. Life Ins. & Trust Co., 17 App. D.C. 112 (D.C. Cir. 1900), the court held that to constitute an equitable assignment of a chose in action, the following has to occur generally: anything said written or done, in pursuance of an agreement and for valuable consideration, or in consideration of an antecedent debt, to place a chose in action or fund out of the control of the owner, and appropriate it to or in favor of another person, amounts to an equitable assignment. Thus, an agreement, between a debtor and a creditor, that the debt shall be paid out of a specific fund going to the debtor will operate as an equitable assignment.
In Egyptian Navigation Co. v. Baker Invs. Corp., 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 30804 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 14, 2008), the court stated that an equitable assignment occurs under English law when an assignor, with an intent to transfer his/her right to a chose in action, informs the assignee about the right so transferred.
An executory agreement or a declaration trust are also equitable assignments if unenforceable as assignments by a court of law but enforceable by a court of equity exercising sound discretion according to the circumstances of the case .
An equitable assignment is a transfer of future interest that doesn’t fully meet legal standards, but will still be honored by courts. This is an example of a situation covered by equity, or fairness, rather than specific legal doctrine. Courts will enforce such agreements when they are not covered by existing laws, as long as they appear reasonable, fair, and without coercion. The standards for an equitable assignment to pass court scrutiny can depend on the region and the situation.
In such assignments, people can reassign future income in several different ways. One option can be to transfer interest, like part of a trust, to another person; the trust is guaranteed income, but the assignor waives the right to it, allowing the assignee to benefit from it. Another way to perform an equitable assignment is to have third parties transfer anticipated payments to the assignee. In all cases, the transfer involves future income or benefits, not current ones.
Expectations do not count as an equitable assignment. If a child believes she will inherit her father’s house, for example, she cannot transfer her interest in the house to another party. This is because the inheritance is an expectation, not a guarantee. In the event she does not inherit the house, the person she transferred the interest to has no recourse. Thus, someone cannot ask to have a debt written off in exchange for a future expectation.
Due consideration also needs to be part of an equitable assignment transaction to prevent fraud and ensure a transaction is legitimate. In the example of assigning rights to a trust, for instance, the assignor would need to receive something in exchange. That might be a bulk payment to buy the right to proceeds from the trust later. If due consideration is not present, the court may not uphold the agreement, on the grounds that it could be suspect. A special concern can be attempts to transfer rights to future earnings for the purpose of avoiding tax liability, in which case the assignee might be planning to transfer the funds back or allow the assignor to use them.
Specific legal standards for equitable assignments can depend on the nation. People with concerns can consult an attorney for advice in these situations. Attorneys with expertise in this area are familiar with actions in equity courts and can determine whether a transaction is likely to hold up in court.