When we say a person "owns" something, we tend to think in all or nothing terms. Whatever a person owns is at that person's disposal—to sell, to give, to abandon, or to pledge as security for a debt. But relationships between people over property are never so simple or so unqualified. A creditor-debtor relationship, for example, may materially change an owner's power over the property owned. A mortgage, clearly, restricts what an owner may do with mortgaged real estate. The creditor has legally protected rights in the real estate securing the debt. Under Article 9 of the Uniform Commercial Code, secured creditors, also, obtain rights in collateral that are protected.
A less clear category, but important to the maintenance of credit, is that of the unsecured creditor-debtor relationship in which the debtor manipulates property to defeat the creditor's interest solely for that purpose and for no other. Perhaps the debtor foresees insolvency and tries to conceal property that a creditor might use to satisfy the debt. Perhaps the debtor never intends to satisfy the debt and manipulates property to make himself judgment-proof. Should the creditor be without recourse, and should the debtor's rights to deal with property be unrestricted in these kinds of cases?
The National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (ULC) proposed the Uniform Fraudulent Conveyance Act (UFCA) in 1918 as an answer to that question. It was created to supersede the Statute of 13 Elizabeth which was enacted in some form by many states, and which introduced the concept of the fraudulent conveyance into the law of every American jurisdiction, with or without enactment. The UFCA was adopted in 26 states, and its provisions were incorporated into the Federal Bankruptcy Act.
In 1984, this 1918 Act was revised and renamed the Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act (UFTA). The intent of the UFTA is the same as the UFCA—it classifies a category of transfers as fraudulent to creditors and provides creditors with a remedy for such transfers. The fundamental remedy is the recovery of the property for the creditor. Why a new Act at this time? The terminology of the UFCA had become considerably archaic, and needed to be modernized. The Bankruptcy Reform Act of 1978 changed the federal law on fraudulent transfers in significant ways, and made it imperative to reconsider state law. And creditor-debtor relationships have changed and become more complicated, so that the whole issue of fraudulent transfers needed rethinking. In 1984, the UFTA is ready to promote the modernization of this subject area of law.
UFTA creates a right of action for any creditor against any debtor and any other person who has received property from the debtor in a fraudulent transfer. A fraudulent transfer occurs when a debtor intends to hinder, delay, or defraud a creditor, or transfers property under certain conditions to another person without receiving reasonably equivalent value in return. But not all such transfers are fraudulent to every creditor.
UFTA distinguishes between present and future creditors, and specifies the kinds of transfers that are fraudulent to each of the two categories of creditors. Both present and future creditors may recover property when there is a transfer with intent to defraud. Both may recover when a transfer is made without receiving reasonably equivalent value when the result is to make the debtor's assets unreasonably small in relation to the business or transaction in which the debtor is engaged or about to be engaged. Also, present and future creditors can both recover when a debtor transfers property without receiving reasonably equivalent value when intending to incur debts beyond the ability to pay.
Present creditors, however, can recover property when it is transferred by a debtor to another person without receiving reasonably equivalent value if the debtor is insolvent or becomes insolvent as a result of the transfer. A transfer to an "insider" without receiving reasonably equivalent value when the debtor is insolvent, is also fraudulent to present creditors. The term "insider" is defined, and is someone with a special relationship to the debtor. Examples are relatives or business partners (when the debtor is a partner). To be liable, an "insider" must have reasonable cause to believe that the debtor is insolvent.
The fundamental relief for a creditor when there is a fraudulent transfer is recovery of the property from the person to whom it has been transferred. UFTA allows "avoidance of the transfer or obligation to the extent necessary to satisfy the creditor's claim. . . ." Whatever is necessary to obtain the property is provided for, including attachment, injunctive relief, appointment of a receiver, or "any other relief the circumstances may require." If the creditor has reduced the claim to a judgment, the court may levy execution against the recovered assets. This means that the property can be sold to satisfy the amount of the judgment.
Much of the UFTA resembles the UFCA, its predecessor. What, then, are some of the differences? (A more detailed comparison is available from the ULC.) To begin with, the term "transfer" taken from the Federal Bankruptcy Act replaces the term "conveyance." UFCA uses the term "fair consideration" instead of "reasonably equivalent value." "Reasonably equivalent value" does not include the element of good faith as "fair consideration" does, and is more sharply defined than "fair consideration" is in the UFCA. UFTA overcomes the problem raised in the case of Durrett v. Washington National Insurance Co., 621 F.2d 201 (5th Cir. 1980), a case that jeopardized mortgage foreclosure sales. Under UFTA, a properly conducted foreclosure sale is not a fraudulent transfer, notwithstanding the fact that it does not recover an amount somewhat near the actual market value of the property. The concept of the "insider" is new in the UFTA. UFTA provides for defenses of transferees and for a statute of limitations. Both issues are not addressed in the UFCA.
The Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act continues the concept of a civil action for transfers fraudulent to creditors first created in the Statute of 13 Elizabeth, and comprehensively continued in the Uniform Fraudulent Conveyance Act. The new Act takes into account the considerable development in both law and practice in creditor-debtor relationships since 1918. The ULC hopes that it will be adopted uniformly in all states.