We have learned that clients want to distribute their assets to their family in very specific ways. It is not unusual that they have thought they have distributed their assets in a certain way, but upon death certain gifts that they may have wanted to make fail because they do not follow the required rules. This often leaves family to fight about the intention of their deceased relative. Unfortunately, the person who knows the answer is no longer there to advise the family as to what was intended. Therefore, it is extremely important to make sure your intention is clear when you are planning your estate.
Recently, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland decided Daniels v. Daniels, (September Term, 2012.) In this case, James Daniels had died, leaving behind Lana, his wife, and Brenda, a daughter from a prior marriage. James had owned a piece of property in Catonsville, which he had inherited from his mother. It appears that he decided to deed this property to him and his wife, so that when he died she would own the property. In 2006, he executed this deed.
The title agent who helped him create this deed informed him that he should record it in the land records. Instead, and for unknown reasons, he took the deed home and placed it in a cabinet in the bedroom he shared with Lana. He then advised her that he had added her name to the title of the house. When James died, the deed was located in the cabinet having never been recorded or given to Lana.
Brenda argued that the deed had not transferred the property to Lana, and that the property should be part of the estate, to be sold and distributed to all the heirs (presumably including her). Despite what most non attorneys may expect, the Court agreed, and decided that the deed was not effective to transfer the property. You may be asking why? The answer is that in order to validly transfer the property, a party must “deliver” it. This means that creating a deed but not giving it to the other person is ineffective. You must give it to the person and relinquish control. In other words, until you have handed a deed to the other person or given it to someone to do so, you can always destroy the deed and it is of no value. Therefore, the transfer does not occur until you have given it to someone, indicating that this is your final decision.
These tricky issues can often arise in creating a will for distributing your assets upon your death. It is important to speak to an attorney to help in formulating your will so that your wishes are followed after you pass. We are here to help you with these issues. We handle all types of family issues, including prenuptial agreements for second marriages and estate planning. Call Huesman, Jones & Miles, LLC, at (443) 589-0150 or contact us online. Our offices are conveniently located to service clients throughout Baltimore County, Carroll County, Harford County and Howard County, including the areas of Baltimore, Towson, Essex, Columbia, Westminster and Bel Air.