Massachusetts Homeowner Files Action to Clear Title After Failed Transfer to Family Trust

In a Massachusetts real estate action to clear title, a person seeks a court order that they are the owner of the property and that there are no other valid legal claims that may be made against the property.  An April 1, 2019 title action decided by the Land Court illustrates how these cases may arise.  The plaintiff in the case filed an action to clear title after ownership of property became an issue during the probate of his wife’s estate.

The property had been conveyed to the plaintiff by his parents and was his primary residence.  In 1996, the plaintiff and his late wife had executed multiple legal documents purporting to create a family trust and named themselves as trustees. Neither the trust declaration nor the certification of trust was ever recorded. Nevertheless, the plaintiff conveyed the property to the family trust and his late wife, as trustee of the trust, and recorded the deed.

In June of 2013, the plaintiff attempted to refinance the property, but was informed by the lender that the 1996 transfer of the property to the trust had failed, because no trust certificate was ever recorded.  The lender asserted that the 1996 deed had instead served to convey title to the plaintiff’s wife, individually.  The plaintiff subsequently filed an action against the beneficiaries of his late wife’s estate, seeking to establish his ownership of the property.

The Land Court found that the evidence demonstrated a clear intention on the part of the plaintiff to create a trust and convey the property into that trust, such that the named beneficiaries of the trust would receive the property, and not his wife’s estate.  The court also noted that because the trust was not valid, the 1996 deed to the property had vested title to the plaintiff’s wife individually, not as trustee, and would therefore transfer to her estate if the relief sought by the plaintiff was not granted.

In Massachusetts, there are a number of equitable remedies that may be utilized by the courts when appropriate, including the imposition of a constructive trust.  A constructive trust is designed to prevent unjust enrichment arising from a mistake or other circumstances in which an individual’s acquisition of legal title to property constitutes unjust enrichment.  If a constructive trust is imposed by the court over property, the property is considered held in trust for the claimant.

Ultimately, the court concluded that the estate had been unjustly enriched, and that imposition of a constructive trust was appropriate.  The court explained that its ruling would give effect to the intention of the parties, as demonstrated through the actions of the plaintiff and his late wife, and that no other party would be adversely affected by this relief, as the estate beneficiaries did not contest ownership.

At Pulgini & Norton, our Massachusetts real estate lawyers bring legal experience and personalized solutions to every case we handle.  Our skilled attorneys have represented individuals in foreclosure proceedings, home purchases and sales, title actions, and other residential real estate matters.  Schedule an appointment to consult with one of our qualified property attorneys by calling (781) 843-2200 or completing our contact form online.

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