Home > Uncategorized > In Re Lemcool Trust – An Unfortunate Example of Why You Need to “Put it in Writing”

In Re Lemcool Trust – An Unfortunate Example of Why You Need to “Put it in Writing”

In real estate transactions it should go without saying that if you want the deal to hold up in a court of law, you should put it in writing. This is particularly primarily due to the Michigan “statute of frauds” which holds that any agreement for the sale of an interest in land must be evidenced in some sort of writing. MCL 566.106.
Case in point:  an unpublished decision dated October 18, 2012, the Michigan Court of Appeals  In re James R. & Marjorie V. Lemcool Trust, No. 306620, 2012 WL 5193182 (Mich Ct App October 18, 2012).
Some initial background:
On May 13, 1999, James R. Lemcool (James) and Marjorie V. Lemcool (Marjorie) created The James R. Lemcool and Marjorie V. Lemcool Trust (hereinafter, “the Trust”). They conveyed the property to the Trust. Their son Dennis Lemcool (“Dennis”) was specified as the successor trustee and the sole recipient of any eventual proceeds or assets from the Trust. James and Marjorie “intentionally made no provisions for” two of their other children, one of whom, James R. Lemcool, Jr. (James Jr.), is Linda Geddis’s father. The Trust was, by its terms, to be irrevocable and unmodifiable after the death of either James or Marjorie.
And the story goes like this:
 Linda Geddis testified that she had received phone calls from 2004 – 2006 from Dennis Lemcool, her cousin, asking her to come to Michigan from Iowa, where she was living, to take care of her aunt Marjorie Lemcool. Geddis agreed, and
moved into  the home from a good, well-paying job in Iowa and invested substantial resources into repairing and maintaining the Property on the understanding that she would receive a 1/2  interest in the Property.
According to Geddis, Dennis and his brother James Jr. agreed that she would inherit James Jr.’s half of the house, but she conceded that understanding was never reduced to writing. After James Jr. died in 2009 Geddis testified that Dennis told her “Will or no will, trust or no trust, as far as I’m concerned, you own your dad’s half…” Id. at pages 2…..
If you follow the chronology you understand that in 1999 the Trust was irrevocable – “unchangeable.”  Geddis’ father, James Jr., had no interest in the Property, since the Trust clearly directed it all went to Dennis.
Anyway, we continue on with the story…
As Trustee of the Trust, Dennis sued Geddis to evict her from the Property, that had belonged to the Trust.   Geddis countersued, claiming she should have legal or equitable ownership interest in the Property.
According to his testimony, “Dennis’s view of the overall situation was generally that Geddis had an agreement with James Jr., not with him, and that he had never in any way assented to Geddis ever acquiring an ownership interest in the house.”
The court found as fact that “Geddis and David made substantial improvements to the house, which was in a dilapidated state when Geddis and David moved in.” and that “Geddis and David left good jobs in Iowa to come to Michigan to live in the house.”
However,  as the Court of Appeals noted “Unfortunately, the trial court found that Geddis was simply unable to establish a prima facie showing that Dennis, who undisputedly had sole legal interest in the property, had ever made an explicit promise or agreement with Geddis to that effect. The trial court consequently denied Geddis’s counterclaim and granted Dennis the eviction.”

The Court of Appeals affirmed the decision.
You can tell the reluctance which this Court issued its ruling – just read the way the decision ends:
“We have a difficult time believing that Dennis did nothing to foster Geddis’s belief that she would receive an ownership interest in the house, but defendant failed to establish any evidence from which an actual agreement, as opposed to unilateral assumptions, no matter how reasonable, could be found. The result in this case therefore strikes us as unfair but inescapable. “In re James R. & Marjorie V. Lemcool Trust, No. 306620, 2012 WL 5193182 (Mich Ct App October 18, 2012)
LESSON:
Quite simply, get it in writing.  Even if its not in a mutually drafted, reviewed by your lawyer, agreement.  Get some writing to evidence that an agreement was reached. This certainly applies in the real estate context, particularly due to the statute of frauds, but it also applies in EVERY context.
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