Butler v. Sherwood

196 A.D. 603, 188 N.Y.S. 242 (1922)

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Butler v. Sherwood

New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division
196 A.D. 603, 188 N.Y.S. 242 (1922)

  • Written by Rose VanHofwegen, JD

Facts

Just before surgery, Ella Sherwood executed a quitclaim deed purporting to give all her real and personal property to her second husband, Edward Sherwood (defendant), in the event of her death. Ella did not trust wills because she had been through a will contest from her first husband’s estate. The quitclaim deed said that for $1 consideration, Ella gave Edward everything conditioned on his outliving her, “to vest and take effect only upon my decease,” and reserved a right to revoke. In other words, Ella wanted to keep her property until she died, and she meant the quitclaim deed to work just like a will—giving her property to Edward only if he outlived her—but avoid a will contest. Ella did not actually give any of her property to Edward before she died. When Ella passed away, her brother and only heir at law, Walter Butler (plaintiff), sued to set aside the quitclaim deed on the grounds of undue influence and lack of a valid transfer of the property. At trial, the court found no undue influence and that Ella clearly had wanted her property to go to Edward but used the wrong type of instrument. The court reasoned that the quitclaim deed was testamentary in nature but did not comply with statutory will formalities, making it void. Therefore, the court awarded Ella’s property to Butler less Edward’s statutory spousal share. Edward appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Woodward, J.)

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