Whiteacre is a tract of 200 acres that is used as a farm. The owner of Whiteacre, O, raises cattle and grows crops on the property. O has a spouse, A. Together, O and A have one child, B. O can no longer run the farm, but wants the farm to remain in his family. If the farm cannot remain in the family, then O wants to land to go to his church.
Accordingly, O devises Whiteacre as follows: “To A for life, then to B in fee simple, provided that B shall not convey or attempt to convey any interest in Whiteacre to any person who is not a blood relation of O, and if B does so, then B’s interest shall be forfeited and pass to my church.” This deed is properly recorded.
During A’s lifetime, Whiteacre is annexed by the adjacent municipality, and all of the property surrounding Whiteacre is filled by new housing developments. Although the municipality’s zoning law prohibits agricultural activity, the law provides an exception for preexisting uses, which means that Whiteacre can continue to be operated as a farm indefinitely.
Although the farm continues to operate at a profit, A believes that the land is more valuable for other purposes. A therefore proposes to tear down the barns and other buildings on the property and build a mixed-use development, which will include an apartment building and a small shopping center. A’s research indicates that these changes would provide double the current income from Whiteacre, and would at least triple the market value of the land itself.
B objects to A’s plans, and seeks an injunction to prevent A from developing Whiteacre.
While the lawsuit is pending, A dies, and Whiteacre passes to B. B holds Whiteacre for one year, then decides to sell it. A potential buyer, C, comes forward and is willing to pay B’s asking price. C is a blood relation of O. Another potential buyer, D, offers to pay slightly less than the asking price. D is a friend of B, and is not related in any way to O. B sells Whiteacre to D.
O’s church then asserts a claim to Whiteacre. The church argues that B has violated the conditions placed on transfer by O, and that title should therefore vest in the church.
- Did A have the right to develop Whiteacre as planned? Explain.
- As between D and O’s church, who holds title to Whiteacre? Explain.