Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Notice of Probate?

In MacLand v. Allen Family Trust, (Or. Ct. App. 2006), Plaintiff sued the Allen Family Trust for title to rental property owned by his parents, Jess and Aldura Allen. Jess died in 1989, leaving the property to the plaintiff. Notice was sent to plaintiff about the probate proceeding, but he never responded, claiming later he had never received the notice.
Plaintiff claimed in an affidavit that he had no knowledge of the property until October 2003. In 2001, Aldura purported to transfer the property to herself as trustee of the Allen Family Trust. When Aldura died in shortly thereafter, under the terms of the trust, the property went to plaintiff’s brother Robert, as the residual beneficiary. After learning about the property in 2003, plaintiff sued the Trust.  The Trust argued that the plaintiff should have asserted his claim within the statutory ten-year time frame. However, the court looked to the equitable doctrine of laches in resolving the case:
Here, the trial court found that plaintiff had "knowledge of the relevant facts because he was presumptively served with copies of the probate petition." Defendant similarly cites the transfers of the property from Aldura to the trust and from the trust to Ricky as evidence that plaintiff had constructive notice of others' claims to the property. We have held repeatedly, however, that "[c]onstructive notice of the relevant facts is not sufficient to trigger whatever statute of limitation serves as the presumptively reasonable period." *** Instead, "actual notice" is required in the form of "full knowledge of the relevant facts." ***
There is evidence in the record indicating that plaintiff had actual notice of a claim to or interest in the property that was adverse to his. [This included an email wherein plaintiff supposedly said he wanted no part of the estate]. ***
All of that evidence is contradicted, however, by plaintiff's affidavit, in which he stated that he was unaware of the existence of the property, let alone any adverse claims to it, until October 2003. That contradiction is central to our resolution of this case because it creates a genuine issue of material fact as to when plaintiff first obtained full knowledge of all facts relevant to his claim for ownership of the property. Without knowing when that occurred, we cannot say, as a matter of law, that plaintiff's claim is barred by laches, unless we conclude that plaintiff delayed asserting his claim for an unreasonable amount of time by waiting from October 2003 until March 2004 to file his complaint. We conclude that plaintiff's delay during that period was not unreasonable. Therefore, the trial court erred in granting summary judgment for defendant.


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