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What Is an Equitable Assignment?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 20 November 2016
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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.

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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.

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