Summary of Rosengrant v. Rosengrant, Court of Appeals of OK (1981)
Parties: PL (must be executor of the estate of Rosengrant) v. DF (nephew of property owners/grantors)
Cause of action/remedy sought: The following is a cause of action to cancel and set aside a deed which purported to vest title in the nephew of the Rosengrants claiming that the deed was void for want of delivery.
Procedural History: Trial court held that deed was void for want of legal delivery. This court affirms.
Facts: Harold and Mildred Rosengrant were a retired couple who lived on a farm in OK. They had no children but 6 nieces and nephews by Harold’s dead brother. Jay, one of the nephews lived close to the couple and helped them with their chores. Mildred was diagnosed with cancer in 1971 and Jay’s wife went to Mexico with the couple for treatments. Before going on the trip, Mildred called Jay and asked him to meet with her and Harold at the bank. Jay was introduced to the banker (Vanlandengham) who presented the couple with a deed to their farm which he had prepared according to their instructions.
Jay accepted the deed and then handed it back to the banker who told him he would put it into an envelope and keep it in the vault (he handed it back because they felt this was the way to make it legal. In 1976, Harold discovered that he had lung cancer and in 1977 put $10K into 2 certificates of deposit in joint tenancy with Jay. When Harold died, Jay & his wife went to the bank for the contents of the safety deposit box and the envelope containing the deed, which Jay recorded the next day.
Issue(s): Under OK property law, was there was legal delivery of title from Harold & Mildred to Jay?
Holding: There was no legal delivery to Jay so the title was void. There was only a symbolic delivery.
Court’s Rationale/Reasoning: On the envelope of the deed it said that it was to be given to either the grantor or the grantee which shows that Harold was free to retrieve the deed as he wanted before his death. There were 2 conditions that needed to be satisfied before the grant could take effect and those were 1) that both parties died and 2) that the deed was recorded.
His actions also show that he intended to reserve a right of retrieval. He continued to farm the land, use and control the property and pay taxes on it and claim it as his homestead until he died. This shows that he was trying to use the deed as a will and under OK law this cannot be done.
Legal delivery is not just a symbolic gesture. The true intent of the parties is evidenced on the envelope.
Rule: Grantor’s intent at the time the deed was delivered is the most important factor in transfers of title
Where a grantor delivers a deed under which he reserves a right of retrieval and attaches to that delivery the condition that the deed is to become operative only after the death of the grantors and further continues to use the property as if no transfer had occurred, grantor’s actions are nothing more than an attempt to employ the deed as if it were a will.
Did court avoid issues?: No.
Concurrences: There was no reason to believe Jay who was the only person from the parties that was still alive. If the grantors intended for Jay to have the land, they could have simply given it to him and told him to record it. The fact that the grantors continued to occupy the land, paid taxes on it and offered to sell it once shows that they did not make an actual delivery of the deed to Jay.