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In re Estate of Tatum

Court of Appeals of Texas, Eleventh District

August 1, 2019


          On Appeal from the County Court at Law Erath County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. P09416.

          Panel consists of: Bailey, C.J., Stretcher, J., and Wright, S.C.J. [2]



         This appeal involves a dispute among family members regarding the validity of a warranty deed dated December 17, 1999 (the 1999 Deed). The parties dispute whether certain executing grantors of the 1999 Deed conveyed their individual interests in the property at issue even though the 1999 Deed was not executed and delivered by all of the proposed grantors who owned an interest in the property being conveyed. Appellants (Larry Wayne Tatum, Deritha Quay Davis, Herbert Franklin Tatum, and Betty Kathryn Culbertson) and Appellee (Vicki Lynn Truss) owned an equal, undivided future interest in the property and executed the 1999 Deed. Appellee is also the independent executor of her mother's estate.

         In her capacity as independent executor, Appellee filed a traditional motion for summary judgment arguing that the 1999 Deed was valid to convey the individual interests of the executing grantors because they all executed and delivered the 1999 Deed. In response, Appellants argued that a genuine issue of material fact existed regarding whether they executed and delivered the 1999 Deed with the intent of conveying the executing grantors' individual interests in the property without the signatures of all the proposed grantors. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Appellee.

         In one issue on appeal, Appellants challenge the trial court's grant of summary judgment. Because we conclude that a genuine issue of material fact exists regarding whether the enforceability of the 1999 Deed was conditioned on the execution and delivery of the 1999 Deed by all of the proposed grantors, we sustain Appellants' sole issue and reverse and remand.

         Background Facts

         George and Hilda Tatum had ten children: Deritha Quay Davis, John Willie Tatum, Herbert Franklin Tatum, Larry Wayne Tatum, Betty Kathryn Culbertson, Deborah Dorris Sauer, Georgia Ellouise Arms, Timothy Dan Tatum, Vicki Lynn Truss, and Ricky Glenn Tatum.

         On January 18, 1982, George and Hilda executed and delivered to their children a warranty deed concerning a 134-acre tract of land, which constituted the family farm (the Property). The deed reserved a life estate in the Property for George and Hilda and conveyed the remainder (future) interest to each of their ten children in equal shares. However, in 1999, John died, and his interest in the Property transferred to his widow, Marian Meaders Tatum. At that point, the future interest in the Property was held by George and Hilda's surviving nine children and John's widow, Marian (collectively, the Tatum Children).

         After John's death, Hilda approached an attorney and asked him to draft a deed that would convey each of the Tatum Children's interest in the Property back to George and Hilda. Shortly thereafter, during a family Christmas gathering in December 1999, Hilda approached each of the Tatum Children with the 1999 Deed and asked each of them to convey their interest back to her and George. The 1999 Deed listed all ten Tatum Children as the grantors, and it purported to convey the Property in fee simple back to George and Hilda; the 1999 Deed made no reference to the undivided future interests of the grantors.

         Appellants allege that they and Hilda understood that the 1999 Deed would not be effective unless it was signed by all of the Tatum Children. Appellants also allege that they signed and acknowledged the 1999 Deed based upon this belief. Appellee and three other Tatum Children also executed the 1999 Deed. However, Timothy and Marian never signed the 1999 Deed. Therefore, ultimately, only eight of the ten Tatum Children signed the 1999 Deed.

         George died in 2000. In 2001 and 2002, believing the 1999 Deed was never executed or delivered, Betty, Deborah, Georgia, and Ricky each executed an affidavit (the Affidavits) to rescind his or her signature on the 1999 Deed "due to the failure to obtain full legal consent from all involved parties." Deborah, Georgia, and Ricky are not parties to this action.

         Appellants allege that, in 2003, Hilda arranged a meeting with the Tatum Children to discuss the Tatum Children's transfer of their interests in the Property. This time, however, Hilda requested that the Tatum Children consider transfering their interests among themselves so that only one of them would hold the entire interest. At that time, Larry was the only child who expressed an interest in purchasing the other Tatum Children's remainder interests.

         Deritha, Herbert, Betty, Timothy, and Marian subsequently conveyed their interests in the Property to Larry. Larry properly filed and recorded the conveyances in December 2003. Deborah, Georgia, Vicki, and Ricky also spoke with Larry about selling their interests, but they were unable to reach an agreement. Hilda, ...

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