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In Re Estate of Williams





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Jackson County; the Hon. David Watt, Judge, presiding.


On July 1, 1983, plaintiffs, Karen Kim Fahringer and Fonda D. Rodriguez, executors under the will of Glenn D. Williams, deceased, filed a first amended complaint to quiet title in the circuit court of Jackson County against defendants, Gale R. Williams and Helen Williams. In this complaint, plaintiffs, who are Glenn Williams' daughters, requested that the trial court determine that (1) the beneficiaries under Glenn Williams' will were the owners of two tracts of farm land located in Jackson County; and (2) defendants had no ownership in such land, which they claimed by virtue of a deed to the land which was allegedly executed by the decedent and delivered to his twin brother, Gale, in January 1947, but not recorded until January 1983. Following a bench trial, the court found that Gale Williams' possession of a deed to the land in question after Glenn's death raised the presumption that Glenn delivered the deed to Gale with the intent to convey title and that plaintiffs had failed to rebut the presumption by clear and convincing evidence. Accordingly, the trial court entered an order finding in favor of defendants and against plaintiffs. Plaintiffs appeal.

On review, plaintiffs maintain in the alternative that the trial court: (1) applied an improper standard of proof in making its findings concerning the delivery of the deed to Gale; (2) erred in determining that plaintiffs' evidence failed to clearly and convincingly rebut the presumption that Glenn delivered the deed to Gale; and (3) erred in determining that Glenn did not acquire title to the land by adverse possession. We affirm.

The following undisputed evidence is contained in the record. On January 24, 1946, and December 24, 1946, Denton and Bertha Williams, who were the parents of Glenn and Gale Williams, executed warranty deeds conveying to Glenn their interest in a tract of farmland containing approximately 40 acres and an 80-acre tract, all located in Vergennes Township, Jackson County, known respectively as the McClellon tract and the Crow place. On January 2, 1947, Glenn executed a warranty deed conveying this land to Gale. Following Glenn's death on January 6, 1983, Gale recorded the 1947 deed on January 17, 1983. On that date, Gale also recorded a quitclaim deed conveying his interest in the farmland to himself and his wife, defendant Helen Williams, as joint tenants.

Plaintiffs introduced the following evidence at the bench trial. Howard Wisely, a lifelong resident of Vergennes Township, testified that in approximately 1946 he and Glenn entered into a one-year farm leasing agreement which provided that Mr. Wisely would farm the McClellon tract, receive two-thirds of the farm income, and pay one-third of such income to Glenn.

Raymond Williams, Glenn and Gale Williams' oldest brother, testified as follows. Raymond managed Glenn's farming operations from 1947 to 1980 pursuant to an oral agreement with Glenn. Under this agreement, Raymond farmed the land in question, "made practically all of the decisions" concerning the daily operations of the farm, received two-thirds of the farm income and paid two-thirds of the expenses. During this period, Glenn received one-third of the farm income and paid one-third of such expenses. In a 1977 discussion in which Glenn, Raymond, and their wives were present, Raymond indicated that a certain company had offered to purchase Glenn's farming operations, including the approximately 120-acre tract of farmland, for the sum of $1 million. Glenn refused this offer, stating that he wanted to convey the land to his daughters in such a way that "they can't sell [the farmland] out of the family." When Raymond conveyed a similar purchase offer to Glenn in 1979, Glenn again refused to sell the farmland because he did not want the proceeds to be "mishandled."

Gary Dillinger, an attorney who practiced law in Jackson County during the period from 1972 to 1982, testified that he drafted a will for Glenn in 1982. This will placed the farmland and other assets into a testamentary trust. Pursuant to the provisions of this trust, Glenn's wife would receive the income from the trust during her lifetime and, at her death, the assets of the trust would be distributed to Glenn's children and grandchildren.

Plaintiff Fonda Rodriguez testified that in a 1977 discussion, Glenn informed her that he was going to reject an offer to purchase the farmland which he had received because he planned to equally distribute that land among his four daughters. He also stated that he "worried" that any sale proceeds would be spent in a manner in which he would not approve. In conversations which occurred between 1977 and 1982, Ms. Rodriguez often informed Glenn of her desire to purchase the farmland. Glenn refused to sell the farmland to her, stating that he wanted to divide the land equally among his daughters. However, Glenn suggested that she could purchase her sisters' interests in the farmland after his death. Glenn also recommended a particular area of the 80-acre tract to Fonda and her husband as a suitable building site for a home. Fonda also testified that she served as Glenn's bookkeeper in 1976 and 1977. During this period, Glenn paid the real estate taxes on the farmland and his share of the farm-related expenses.

Plaintiff Karen Fahringer testified that during the period from September 1982 until January 1983, when she was Glenn's bookkeeper, Glenn received his share of the farm income, paid his share of such expenses, and paid the real estate taxes on the farmland. Glenn informed Karen that he planned to convey the farmland to his daughters.

June Williams, Glenn's wife, testified that although she and Glenn did not live on the farmland, Glenn was the sole owner of that land. June further testified that Raymond Williams actually farmed the land; however, Glenn discussed with Raymond the management decisions concerning the farmland, frequently visited the land to observe the progress of the farming operations, and contracted for the clearing of trees on the Crow place. In addition, Glenn pledged the farmland as collateral to secure various mortgages and leased the mineral interests underlying the farmland.

June Williams corroborated plaintiffs' testimony concerning Glenn's refusal to sell the property because he planned to convey the land to his daughters upon his death. Glenn also told her that he believed that plaintiff Fonda Rodriguez should receive the Crow place because it was the most suitable site for building a home. Mrs. Williams also stated that she had no knowledge of the 1947 deed which Gale recorded following Glenn's death in 1983. Mrs. Williams testified that although she was familiar with Glenn's handwriting, she did not recognize the signature on the 1947 deed which Glenn purportedly had executed.

Plaintiffs introduced into evidence copies of six mortgages and three mineral leases involving the farmland which were signed either by Glenn, individually, or by Glenn and his wife. The most recent mortgage, dated June 22, 1981, pledged the farmland and other real estate to secure an $800,000 indebtedness to Citizens Savings of Belleville. This indebtedness was payable in monthly installments of principal and interest with the balance due and payable on July 1, 2001. Plaintiffs also introduced copies of six financial statements which Glenn had executed and submitted as a part of loan applications to the First National Bank of Ava. In each of these statements, Glenn apparently listed the farmland as one of his assets.

At the close of plaintiffs' evidence, defendants orally moved for a judgment in their favor pursuant to section 2-1110 of the Civil Practice Law (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 110, par. 2-1110). After hearing the parties' arguments, the trial court denied this motion.

Defendants introduced the following evidence. After identifying the 1947 deed, defendant Gale williams testified that he first learned of that deed's existence on January 2, 1947, and that he had the deed in his possession ...

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