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Jenkins v. Teegarden

California Court of Appeals, Fourth District, Second Division

October 23, 2014

MERILOU JENKINS, as Trustee, etc., Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
CHARLOTTE J. TEEGARDEN et al., Defendants and Respondents.

[CERTIFIED FOR PARTIAL PUBLICATION[*]]

APPEAL from the Superior Court of Riverside County. Super. Ct. No. RIP1200120 Thomas H. Cahraman, Judge.

Page 1129

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 1130

COUNSEL

Michael R. Lawler, Jr. and Harry A. Wallace for Plaintiff and Appellant.

The Law Office of Kyle A. Patrick and Kyle A. Patrick for Defendants and Respondents.

OPINION

RICHLI J.

In 2007, Robert (Bob) Perry quitclaimed a house to defendant Charlotte (Jeanne) Teegarden, who was his friend and one of his caregivers. Teegarden prepared the quitclaim deed. In her deposition, Teegarden admitted that the only consideration that she gave for the quitclaim consisted of one dollar and her friendship. At trial, however, she testified that, pursuant to an oral agreement with Perry, she also gave (1) $100,000, which went into improvements to the house, (2) her $45,000 equity in a different house, and (3) her services.

Plaintiff Merilou Jenkins is Perry’s stepdaughter and, since Perry’s death, the trustee and beneficiary of his trust. In this proceeding, Jenkins contends that the quitclaim was invalid under Probate Code former section 21350, which, at the time, provided that a “donative transfer” is invalid under specified circumstances, including when the recipient drafted the instrument that effected the transfer. Jenkins also contends that the quitclaim deed was ineffective because it was executed by Perry in his individual capacity instead of as trustee and because it had an erroneous legal description.

The trial court found that the quitclaim was not a donative transfer because Teegarden gave good consideration for it. It then reformed the quitclaim deed so as to fix the mistakes in it regarding the grantor’s capacity and the legal description.

Page 1131

Jenkins appeals. She contends, among other things, that the trial court erred by finding that the quitclaim was not a donative transfer.

Preliminarily, we will hold that, even though Probate Code former section 21350 et seq. has been repealed and replaced by Probate Code section 21380 et seq., which applies only to instruments executed on or after January 1, 2011, Probate Code former section 21350 et seq. still governs an instrument executed before January 1, 2011.

This brings us to the definition of a “donative transfer” for purposes of Probate Code former section 21350 (as well as current Prob. Code, § 21380)—a question of first impression. We will hold that a transfer is a donative transfer if it is for inadequate consideration; the mere fact that the recipient gave good consideration, sufficient to support a contract, does not prevent the transfer from being donative.

Finally, we will hold that the evidence demonstrated that the quitclaim was a donative transfer under this definition as a matter of law. Hence, the quitclaim was invalid.

I

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Around 1956 or 1957, when Jenkins was 13 or 14, her mother Loyce married Robert Perry. Jenkins lived with the Perrys until she was 21 or 22.

The Perrys lived at 16065 Perry Heights Drive in Riverside. They also owned a vacant lot next door at 16025 Perry Heights Drive.

In 2002, the Perrys set up a revocable living trust and transferred the vacant lot to the trust. The trust provided that, after the deaths of both spouses, Jenkins would become the successor trustee and sole beneficiary.

Perry and Teegarden first met in 2001, when they both commuted on the same train from the same station. Teegarden lived in Sun City and had a full-time job in Anaheim.

Perry hired Teegarden to do household bookkeeping work for a few hours on weekends. In 2003, after Loyce sustained a knee injury, Teegarden began helping the Perrys out around the house by shopping for groceries, cooking, and cleaning. Teegarden was paid some $7,000 to $15,000 a year for her services. Teegarden also socialized with the Perrys. However, the Perrys also had other caregivers, and Teegarden continued to work full-time.

Page 1132

In 2003, Teegarden’s house in Sun City went into foreclosure. Pursuant to an oral agreement with the Perrys, she deeded the house to them and they paid off the mortgage. The amount of the mortgage was $205,000;[1] Teegarden estimated that the market value of the house at the time was $250,000. It was agreed that Teegarden could continue to live in the Sun City house. She would pay rent if she could, but if she could not, she did not have to. Whenever she was able to make the mortgage payments again, she would buy it back from the Perrys for $205,000.

Initially, Jenkins saw or spoke to her mother Loyce and to Perry roughly once every two weeks. Starting in 2004 or 2005, however, Teegarden started telling them falsehoods about Jenkins. For example, Teegarden told them that Jenkins intended to put them both in a home, sell their house, and take all their money. Teegarden also told them that Jenkins had gotten her fired from her job and had sent the police to her home.[2] After that, Jenkins tried to stay in touch with Perry, but he would not return her calls.

In December 2005, Loyce died. Perry did not contact Jenkins, nor did she contact him. Perry’s caregivers, including Teegarden, arranged the funeral without consulting Jenkins. Jenkins attended the funeral, but she could not get close to Perry because Teegarden’s husband was “guard[ing]” him. Thereafter, Jenkins had no relationship with Perry.

In early 2006, Perry and Teegarden orally agreed to build a house on the vacant lot that would belong to Teegarden. Perry would pay a contractor to build the structure itself; Teegarden would pay for everything above and beyond the cost of the contractor. Ultimately, Teegarden put about $100,000 into the house; she paid for flooring, the electrical system, a water main, the propane system, appliances, hardscaping, and fencing.

Meanwhile, at some point, Perry sold the Sun City house. It was agreed that the net proceeds would be “a partial offset to what came out of his pocket to build the house.”

When a long-time friend learned that Perry was going to quitclaim the house to Teegarden, he went to Perry and said, “Don’t do it.” Perry replied, “She deserves it and I like her.” At some point, Perry told the same friend that “he was building [the house] so [Teegarden] would have a place to live and look after him.”

Page 1133

In January or February 2007, the new house was finished, and Teegarden moved in.

On August 1, 2007, Perry signed a quitclaim deed purporting to transfer the house and lot to Teegarden. Teegarden prepared the deed by filling out the blanks in a preprinted form that she had bought at Staples. She wrote in Perry individually—rather than as trustee of the trust—as the grantor. She wrote in the address and assessor’s parcel number of the property, but she did not include a proper legal description. She wrote in consideration of one dollar. After the deed was signed but before it was recorded, someone (Teegarden did not know who) wrote in a short legal description, but it did not accurately describe the property.

The attorney who had drafted Perry’s 2002 trust[3] testified that he would have expected Perry to ask him to draft any such deed.

At that time, the house was worth approximately $480,000.[4] Its fair rental value was $2,500 a month.

In her deposition, Teegarden admitted that she bought the house from Perry for one dollar and her friendship. At trial, however, she testified that the consideration she gave for the property included the $100,000 that she paid toward improvements, plus her equity in the house in Sun City, plus her continued care.

On August 2, 2007, the quitclaim was recorded. However, due to the errors in the deed, the record title remained in the trust.

There was conflicting evidence with regard to whether, at this point, Perry was mentally and physically able to manage his own affairs.

Teegarden continued to buy groceries, cook, do housekeeping, and do bookkeeping for Perry, and he continued to pay her approximately $10,000 a year for her services. She kept a baby monitor in her house in case he “needed to call out for help.” However, she still worked full-time, and Perry still had other caregivers.

In 2011, when Perry was 87, he was killed in a fire that destroyed his house.

Page 1134

II

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

In 2012, Jenkins filed a petition asserting three causes of action against Teegarden:[5] (1) to void a donative transfer under Probate Code former section 21350; (2) to adjudicate title to or possession of alleged trust property under Probate Code section 850; and (3) for damages for financial elder abuse under Welfare and Institutions Code section 15600 et seq.

Teegarden filed a responsive pleading alleging, among other things, that the quitclaim was for good and valuable consideration.

Jenkins filed a trial brief arguing, among other things, that the quitclaim was ineffective because it had the wrong ...


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