SOUTHPORT CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH-UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST v. BETTY ANN HADLEY, COEXECUTOR (ESTATE OF ALBERT L. HADLEY), et al., SC 19398

Judicial District of Fairfield at Bridgeport

 

      Wills; Whether Decedent’s Real Property Passed to Devisee of Property upon Decedent’s Death Even Though Decedent had Entered into Contract to Sell the Property to Third Party.  Albert Hadley (the decedent) owned real property in Southport.  In his last will and testament, he devised the property to the plaintiff church.  Nevertheless, he subsequently entered into a contract to sell the property to defendant Evelyn Winn, and he promised to donate the proceeds of the sale to defendant Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art (Cheekwood).  The contract contained a mortgage contingency clause, which required Winn to obtain a written commitment for a loan.  The decedent died before the closing on the property could take place.  The defendant coexecutors of the decedent’s estate filed an application in the Superior Court, seeking authorization to sell the property to Winn.  The trial court granted the coexecutors’ application, reasoning that because the decedent had executed a valid sales contract, he did not have an interest in the property at the time of his death and that, under the doctrine of equitable conversion, he instead had only an equitable interest in the funds that would be generated from the sale of the property.  It therefore concluded that the property should be sold pursuant to General Statutes § 45a-325, which provides that a court may authorize the fiduciary of an estate to convey a decedent’s real property to a person who is entitled to the property by virtue of a contract entered into by the decedent.  The church appealed, claiming that the trial court improperly granted the coexecutors’ application.  The Appellate Court (152 Conn. App. 282) agreed, determining that the sales contract was unenforceable because the mortgage contingency clause had not been waived or fulfilled at the time of the decedent’s death.  It therefore concluded that the decedent maintained an ownership interest in the property upon his death, not merely an equitable claim to the proceeds from the expected sale of the property under the doctrine of equitable conversion.  Accordingly, the court held that because the property had been specifically devised to the church under the decedent’s will, the property could not be sold without the consent of the church pursuant to General Statutes § 45a-428, which provides that the real property of a decedent whose estate is solvent may not be sold without the written consent of the devisee of the property.  The Supreme Court subsequently granted Cheekwood’s petition for certification to appeal, limited to the issue of whether the Appellate Court properly reversed the trial court’s conclusion that the sales contract precluded the property from automatically passing to the church upon the decedent’s death.