Argument Recap:  Lackman v. McAnulty, SC 19668

On October 14, the Connecticut Supreme Court heard arguments in the appeal of Lackman v. McAnulty, SC 19668, a case in which two nieces sued their two aunts in a battle over real estate from their grandfather’s estate.  The underlying question was whether the “Property” should pass through the grandfather’s revocable trust – in which case the aunts shared in the Property – or whether the property should pass by specific bequest in the grandfather’s will – in which case only the nieces and their father would get the Property.

The answer to this question may rest on the fact that while a quitclaim deed to the Property from the grandfather to himself “as trustee” was filed on the land records, the grandfather failed to also file on the land records a document that identified the trustee’s powers.  Because of that omission, the nieces argued, that under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 47-20, the reference to the grantee as trustee was a nullity, their grandfather had unlimited power to transfer or “otherwise dispose of” the Property, and he did so by the specific bequest in his will.

The trial court rejected this argument, adopting instead the aunts’ position that the statute was inapplicable to this situation.  While acknowledging that § 47-20 permitted the grandfather to mortgage or transfer the Property freely while he was alive, the trial court concluded that the statute’s terms “or otherwise dispose of” did not include disposition by bequest through a will.

As is often the case, at oral argument some of the most interesting questions posed by the Justices took the parties slightly off the heart of their arguments.  For instance, although the attorney for the nieces believed that the intent of the grandfather was not germaine to the construction of § 47-20, both Justices Eveleigh and McDonald inquired about such evidence.  The Justices noted that although early versions of the trust specifically identified the Property, later versions of the trust eliminated any reference to the Property and the will, which was executed after the last amendment to the trust, was the last indication of the grandfather’s intent.  The Justices were also interested in the parties’ view of whether the deed in fact transferred the property to the trust.  The aunts’ attorney argued that the parties had stipulated to this fact but the nieces’ attorney denied knowledge of such a stipulation and argued that the effect of § 47-20 is to make such a transfer a nullity.  Only time will tell whether these concerns will ultimately have an effect on the Court’s decision.