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Bello v. Bello

A-1461-06T2 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2008) (Unpublished)

DEEDS; GIFTS — When testimony indicates that a deed from a parent to a child may have been given to allow the child to borrow money or was otherwise given with the understanding that once work on the house was completed, the property would be redeeded to the parent, a court may set aside the deed even though a great deal of time has passed.

Two elderly parents lived in a family home and began encountering financial difficulties. Their only income was from Social Security. They had three daughters. One sister, who made regular financial contributions to her parents, sought a way to assure her parents’ financial independence while at the same time permitting her to purchase a home. The parents allowed the daughter to obtain a loan that would permit herself to make significant renovations to her parents’ house, but would require the daughter’s name to appear on the deed. The parents executed a deed to their daughter transferring to her a 99% interest in the house. At that time, the parents had an outstanding balance on their mortgage of approximately $17,000, a monthly mortgage payment of approximately $500, and equity in the house of approximately $100,000.

Two months after the closing, the parents met with an attorney about undoing the transaction. They did not have the funds to pursue an action. The daughter subsequently remodeled the house for herself and her boyfriend. Two other daughters testified that their sister told them that once the renovations were completed, she would deed her interest back to the parents. Disputes erupted during and after the course of renovation work. Testimony was taken that the father accused his daughter of “stealing” the house. The parents made a number of requests that the property be transferred back to them, but the daughter refused each time. At some point, the mother and daughter filed domestic violence complaints against each other. The daughter filed a partition action. In response, the mother filed a counterclaim seeking to set aside the deed to the daughter. The action was administratively dismissed.

At the time the mother died, an action was filed by her estate. Following a bench trial, the lower court entered a final judgment invalidating the deed purporting to transfer the sister a 99% interest in the premises and declaring the estate of the deceased mother the holder of the beneficial interest in the premises. The Appellate Division affirmed the lower court ruling. It found no merit in the daughter’s arguments that the claim should have been barred as untimely, that the record failed to support cancellation of the deed, or that the lower court failed to recognize that the transaction represented good faith estate planning efforts.

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