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SEIDENBERG v. SEIDENBERG

December 1, 1954

Martha SEIDENBERG, Plaintiff,
v.
Elijah M. SEIDENBERG, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: HOLTZOFF

This case involves a spendthrift trust, i.e., a trust to pay the income to a named beneficiary, coupled with a provision that the beneficiary's interest shall not be transferable by him and shall not be subject to the claims of his creditors. *fn1" The question presented is whether such income may be reached for the purpose of paying maintenance and alimony awarded by a court. The point is one of novel impression in the District of Columbia and, therefore, a somewhat detailed discussion of the subject seems appropriate. This action was brought by a married woman against her husband for custody and maintenance of their five minor children. After a trial on the merits, the court rendered final judgment awarding custody of the children to the plaintiff and directing the defendant to pay to the plaintiff the sum of $ 20 a week, as maintenance for the benefit of the children. The defendant being in arrears in the payment of this award, the plaintiff instituted garnishment proceedings against Fannie Seidenberg and two other persons. The garnishees answered that under the provisions of the will of Harry Seidenberg, the defendant's father, the sum of $ 10,000 was left to them in trust to pay this amount to the defendant at the rate of $ 175 per month. They further alleged that the will provided that no assignment of these funds would be valid, and also, that neither the principal nor the income could be attached by process of attachment, garnishment, or other legal proceeding while in the hands of the trustees. They asserted that by these provisions the testator created a spendthrift trust, the proceeds of which were not subject to attachment or garnishment. The plaintiff filed a traverse to the answer of the garnishees. The matter comes before the court on a motion of the garnishees to quash the traverse. *fn2" The facts are stipulated and raise the question of law whether the income of a spendthrift trust may be reached for the payment of maintenance of minor children.

The pertinent provisions of the will of Harry Seidenberg read as follows:

 'I give, devise and bequeath unto my dear wife, Fannie Seidenberg, and my children, Jacob Seidenberg, and Doris Louise Seidenberg Pazornick, the sum of Ten Thousand Dollars ($ 10,000.00) in Trust, nevertheless, upon the following trust and uses:

 '(a) If my son, Elijah M. Seidenberg, survives me, then and in that event to pay unto him the sum of of One Hundred Seventy Five Dollars ($ 175.00) per month, until the sum of Ten Thousand Dollars ($ 10,000.00) is exhausted.

 '(f) No assignment by my said beneficiary, by way of anticipation, shall be valid. The aforesaid payments of $ 175.00 per month, * * * shall be paid by the trustees, directly to my son, irrespective of any assignment or order, nor shall the principal or income of the said trust become attached by process of attachment, garnishment, or other legal proceeding, while in the hands of the trustees.'

 Under the law of England, spendthrift trusts were deemed invalid as against public policy, in that they constituted unlawful restraints on alienation and, therefore, limitations on assignments and restrictions against attachments, garnishments, and similar proceedings were held unenforceable.

 In the leading case of Brandon v. Robinson, 18 Ves.Jun. 429, 34 Eng.Repts. 379, Lord Eldon ruled that the income of such a trust could be reached by an assignee in bankruptcy. In arriving at this conclusion, the Lord Chancellor observed that it was clear, 'that if property is given to a man for his life, the donor cannot take away the incidents to a life estate' (p. 381). He added that the fund must remain subject to the incidents of property and could not be preserved from the creditors.

 A similar conclusion was reached in Piercy v. Roberts, 1 My. & K. 4, 39 Eng.Repts. 582, in which it was held that an attempt to continue the beneficiary in the enjoyment of the income of such a trust, after he had become insolvent, was in fraud of the law.

 Gray, in his celebrated treatise on Restraints on the Alienation of Property, 2d Ed. p. 159, summarizes the English law on this point as follows:

 It seems to be of questionable morality to sanction the payment of a regular, periodic income to a person, an income that he has not earned, and at the same time to insulate him from his creditors and to permit him to incur debts freely without any legal obligation to pay them out of this fund. To do so tolerates the creation of a small, favored group of weak individuals through the misguided pampering of well-to-do parents or other relatives. No decent, self-respecting human being, with any principles at all and with any strength of character whatever, should be willing to accept such a privilege, if indeed a privilege it may be called.

 Although not allowed to gain a foothold in the country of its origin, nevertheless, the undemocratic doctrine that gives effect to spendthrift trusts acquired general acceptance in the United States. *fn3" Perhaps the explanation of this strange anomaly may be found in the fact that this development originated in this country in an era when the social consciousness regarded with leniency and sympathy the plight of a debtor who struggled under a heavy burden of pecuniary obligations, and viewed with a jaundiced eye the creditor who sought to exact his just due. The question presented in this case, however, is not the validity of a spendthrift trust as against the rights of creditors generally, but a much narrower query, whether the income of such a trust may be reached for the payment of maintenance of minor children.

 On this point the Restatement of the Law of Trusts, Section 157, contains the following provision:

 'Although a trust is a spendthrift trust or a trust for support, the interest of the beneficiary can be reached in satisfaction of an ...


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