ZARA LACKMAN et al. v. SAMANTHA HUNT MCANULTY et al., SC 19668

Judicial District of Litchfield

 

      Trusts; Wills; Land Titles; Whether General Statutes § 47-20 Permits a Grantee Holding Real Property as a Trustee to Devise the Property by Means of the Grantee’s Will.  Hugh I. Hunt (the decedent) owned real property in Goshen.  He created a revocable trust which provided that, on his death, the trust assets would be distributed to his children.  The decedent then executed a quitclaim deed for the property to “Hugh I. Hunt, trustee [of the revocable trust]” as the grantee.  He subsequently executed a will that devised one third interests in the Goshen property to his two grandchildren (the plaintiffs) and their father.  After the decedent died, the plaintiffs brought this action, seeking a declaratory judgment determining ownership rights in the Goshen property.  The defendants are beneficiaries of the trust, and they argued that, because the Goshen property was a trust asset at the time of the decedent’s death, it should be distributed according to the trust’s terms and could not be devised through the decedent’s will.  The plaintiffs claimed that the devise of the property through the will was valid by virtue of General Statutes § 47-20, which provides that “[t]he word ‘trustee’ . . . following the name of the grantee in a duly executed and recorded instrument which conveys . . . real estate . . . [does] not, in the absence of a separate duly executed and recorded instrument defining the powers of the grantee, affect the right of the grantee to sell, mortgage or otherwise dispose of the real estate . . . in the same manner as if [the word ‘trustee’] had not been used.  No person to whom such real estate . . . has been transferred or mortgaged by such grantee is liable for the claim of any undisclosed beneficiary. . . .”  The plaintiffs claimed that because the decedent did not record a separate instrument setting forth his powers as trustee, he retained the right to “sell, mortgage or otherwise dispose of” the Goshen property and therefore that he properly could “otherwise dispose of” the property by devising it to the plaintiffs under his will.  The trial court rendered judgment in favor of the defendants, finding that the phrase “otherwise dispose of” in § 47-20 does not encompass a devise of real estate by means of a will.  The court found that the purpose of § 47-20 is to promote the unhampered alienability of real estate and to benefit those who have received a final distribution of real property from one designated a trustee and not to benefit those, like the plaintiffs, who may receive a future distribution of property upon the death of a testator.  The plaintiffs appeal, and the Supreme Court will decide whether the trial court properly determined that the phrase “otherwise dispose of” in § 47-20 does not include a devise of real estate by means of a will.