The Supreme Court of Alabama ruled that if a grantor gives a deed to a third party to complete delivery and the grantor later dies before delivery is finalized, then the deed will be deemed validly delivered despite surrendering all rights to retrieve it.
If a grantor dies before delivery is completed by a third party, the deed will be deemed validly delivered despite forfeiting all rights to retrieve it.
J. W. Chandler executed a deed in favor of his wife in 1964. The deed was for an undivided one-half interest in 27- acres of land, for life with right of survivorship, while reserving an undivided one-half interest for himself. The remainder was a fee simple to their son J. P. Chandler, who is the defendant in the present case. J. W. Chandler and his wife did not directly deliver the deed to the son but deposited it at a bank, without safety deposit boxes, leaving instructions to deliver it to J.P. at the time of J. W’s death. J. P. could have reclaimed the deed to the land at any time according to the bank’s ordinary practice of business. J.P. never attempted to retrieve the deed. J. W. and his wife continued to live on the land until their deaths in 1972 and 1975, when J. P. took possession of the land. J.P’s siblings filed suit in 1980 challenging the validity of the deed and claiming that there was no valid legal delivery because J.W. could have done so himself before his death. The trial court ruled in favor of J.P. stating that the deed was validly delivered. J.P.’s siblings appealed.
Is a deed validly delivered when a grantor gives the deed to a third party for delivery after his death and forfeits all rights to retrieve it?
Yes. When a grantor gives a deed of land to a third party for delivery after his death and forfeits all rights to retrieve it, the deed is validly delivered. Generally, valid delivery requires the deed to be physically transferred by the grantor to the grantee during the grantor’s lifetime. There is an exception for when the grantor gives the deed to a third party for delivery after his death and he forfeits all rights to retrieve the property. This exception does not apply when the third party only has custody of the deed for safekeeping purposes. In the instant case, J.W. gave the deed to the bank before his death including instructions to deliver the deed to J.P. after J.W.’s death. According to bank policy, the bank would have returned the deed if J.W. requested, but the evidence indicates that J.W. intended to forfeit all rights to retrieve the deed when he deposited it in the bank. Therefore, the court affirmed the trial court’s ruling.
(Trobert, CJ.) The majority’s decision is a correct statement of the law, but is a misapplication with the current facts. J.W. did not relinquish all control over the deed when he gave it to the bank because he could have retrieved it at any time before his death. Depositing a deed in a safe-deposit box is not valid delivery and therefore placing the deed in a file at the bank is equivalent to a safe-deposit box. The deed therefore was never validly delivered and there was no valid conveyance of property to J.P.
Valid delivery of a conveyance of property can be giving the deed to a third party with instructions to deliver it to the grantee upon the grantor’s death.