WA Legal Roundup: Division III
Interesting community property issue. Arlene was married to Delbert. Delbert owned and operated a farm previous to the marriage. Delbert made a will in which gave a life estate in the farm to Arlene and upon her death the farm was to go to Arlene and Delbert’s children (all children were from previous marriages). However, the life estate to Arlene also gave her the power to mortgage or sell the property. Hmmmm. That seems contrary to a “life estate.”
Delbert died. Arlene then got married to Robert and they entered into a community property agreement. Then Arlene died. The children then claimed the property and filed suit to quiet title in their names. Of course Robert wasn’t willing to give up the farm. Robert claimed that the CPA vested all of Arlene’s separate property to the marital community including the life estate in the farm. Robert also claimed that since Arlene had power to sell the property the CPA acted as a transfer of the property (consideration and disposition thus a sale) to the marital community. The trial court agreed and the children appealed.
Arlene’s death caused two things to happen: (1) transfer of the land to Robert under the CPA; and (2) transfer of the land to the children as the remaindermen under Delbert’s will. Which action prevails? Division III reasoned that a person cannot convey a greater interest in real estate than she owns. Thus Arlene could not convey a fee simple to the marital community when she only had a life estate. Even though the CPA could change the owner of the life estate to the marital community, it could not transform the nature of the property. Division III also held that the CPA did not effect a “sale” of the property by changing the character, i.e., the community property had a life estate instead of just Arlene. When Arlene died the life estate ended. Robert will be forced to give up the farm.