APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Logan County; the Hon.
WILLIAM C. RADLIFF, Judge, presiding.
MR. JUSTICE HERSHEY DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
Rehearing denied May 20, 1957.
This appeal from the circuit court of Logan County involves the ownership of 190 acres of farm land formerly owned by John Richards, deceased.
The plaintiff is Laura Virginia Holland, the only child of Helen Richards Holland, deceased, one of John Richards' four daughters. His three other children, Lucille Richards, Florence Richards Graham, and Gertrude Richards Honaker, are defendants.
On a previous appeal, we upheld the complaint as against the contention that it showed on its face the plaintiff was guilty of laches. The cause was remanded for answer and trial. (Holland v. Richards, 4 Ill.2d 570.) There has now been a master's hearing, with both the report and the court's decree adverse to the plaintiff, who perfects the instant appeal.
The conflicting claims revolve about two deeds, both executed by John Richards and his wife and both purporting to transfer title to this property.
The first deed, upon which the plaintiff relies, was executed on June 28, 1926, as a part of a "family settlement." This deed was never recorded and has since been lost or destroyed, the last known person to have had physical custody thereof being John Richards. However, the defendants do not deny the existence of the deed or challenge its validity, but they do disagree with the plaintiff regarding its terms. The plaintiff contends the deed reserved a life estate in John Richards and his wife, and then gave a life estate to Helen (the plaintiff's mother) and "remainder in fee simple to the children of her body" (i.e., the plaintiff, Helen's only child). The defendants maintain the deed gave Helen the fee outright.
The defendants rely upon a deed executed March 18, 1933, and assert that this later deed is controlling. They say that Helen surrendered the 1926 deed to John Richards with the object of revesting title, and because of this the latter acquired the equitable title which he passed on to the defendants by the 1933 deed.
The plaintiff's answer to this is that her mother never revested title, even though the grantor Richards did obtain (from Helen's husband) possession of the deed. And she insists further that even if it be assumed that Helen did surrender the deed to John Richards with the object of revesting title, this would not disturb the plaintiff's own vested remainder interest acquired by virtue of the prior 1926 deed.
As we view the case, the dispositive question is whether the 1926 deed vested the remainder interest in Helen's children or whether Helen received the fee-simple title. If the former be true, then any alleged surrender of the deed by Helen, a life tenant only, could not deprive the plaintiff (as Helen's only child) of her title to the land.
We summarize the uncontradicted evidence bearing on this issue.
In 1926, Mr. and Mrs. John Richards owned 1380 acres of Logan County farm land, plus residence property in Lincoln. On June 28, 1926, they agreed upon a "family settlement" in which all but 40 acres of this land was divided among their four children. An attempt was made to equalize the shares, but because the quality of the land was not uniform, acreage allocations varied.
Briefly, the division was as follows:
To Helen: a deed to the 240-acre "Home Place"; and a deed to the 190 acres here in dispute, 160 acres of which was known as the "Martin Farm," the other being 30 acres of pasture land adjacent thereto and forming a part of the "Home Place." In addition, Helen was then promised an additional 40 ...