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McGuffin v. McGuffin

2005 wl 2077209 (N.J. Super. Ch. Div. 2005) (Unpublished)

DEEDS; REFORMATION — Where a “logical argument” raises doubt as to what property was intended to be conveyed by a deed that has a defective property description, it is proper to allow discovery to aid in determining the true intention of the grantor.

A mother acquired a parcel of land. Forty-five years later, she applied to have the parcel subdivided into two separate lots. As a condition of subdivision approval, she was required to deed a 25 foot strip of land to the municipality. Eleven years later, she deeded the property to her daughter and son-in-law. When her daughter died, her son-in-law became the sole owner. When he died, his executor discovered that the deed from the mother to her daughter and son-in-law included the wrong property description. In fact, it covered the strip of land that had already been deeded to the municipality. The executor moved to reform the deed, arguing that it was “clearly a scrivener’s error which should be corrected.” The executor argued that it was clearly the mother’s intention to deed both subdivided parcels. A granddaughter opposed the application, arguing that at the time the grandmother’s deed was signed, her grandmother “failed to recognize family members and suffered from Alzheimers.” The granddaughter contended that it was not her grandmother’s intention to deed both lots. She claimed that her grandmother had the property subdivided so that she could convey one lot to her daughter and son-in-law for $10,000 and use that money to pay her medical expenses. Lastly, the granddaughter contended that the other lot was intended to be used by the entire extended family and argued that she could not believe that her grandmother would deed the entire property to only one person.

“Reformation of an instrument is used to conform an instrument to the parties[’] intentions. ... There are three traditional grounds for reformation: (1) when there has been a scrivener’s error. ... When the inclusion of a term was clearly part of the bargain, but the intentions of the parties were subverted by a scrivener’s error, the court may reform the instrument to include the term. ... (2) when there has been a mistake of law. ... ; [and] (3) when there has been a mistake of fact.” The Court accepted, as credible, the executor’s argument that the mother’s relationship with her daughter and son-in-law “warranted a transfer of the larger tract and they took possession of the property and lived there for an extended time,” but that did not convince the Court that the entire parcel was intended to be conveyed. It accepted as a “logical argument” that only one of the two subdivided parcels was intended to conveyed. Therefore, given that a significant question of fact existed, the Court believed that discovery needed to be taken to resolve the issues. Consequently, it denied the executor’s request to reform the deed and ordered discovery to determine the true intention of the mother.


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