In this unpublished opinion, a caregiver child adds a parent to the title to her duplex in order to avoid a duplicate garbage fee. She does so by drafting her own quitclaim deed, which deed conveys the property from herself to herself and her parent with no further clarification on the nature of their tenancy.
The legal result is (of course) the creation of a tenancy in common. Thus, when the parent dies and the child goes to refinance the property, she learns that deceased parent’s estate holds a 50% interest. Child goes to court to reform deed on a theory of mutual mistake. Five of her six siblings agree that child and parent certainly must have intended a rights of survivorship joint tenancy, but sibling number six is not so sure and requires a hearing.
The trial judge bails out caregiver child by making a finding of mutual mistake and reforming the deed to a joint tenancy with rights of survivorship, which passed title in fee simple to caregiver child at parent’s death. Court of Appeals affirms. By this time, we can assume, the DIY deed drafter has spent more on legal fees than she saved on the garbage fee.
The case is called: In Re Estate of Frederick Jewel Tiffany (click on name to read the case)
Mutual v Unilateral Mistake
The case reminds us that reformation of a deed requires a finding of mutual, not just unilateral, mistake. Unilateral mistake can support reformation only when one side commits fraud, or knows of and conceals, the mistake.