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Abo Petroleum Corporation v. Amstutz

    Brief Fact Summary. Plaintiff Abo Petroleum Company filed suit to quiet title in lands which were purportedly conveyed to them in fee simple by Beulah and Ruby, life tenants. The daughters of the life tenants contest Plaintiff’s suit.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. This Court will refuse to enforce the doctrine of destructibility of contingent remainders which is an ancient English rule which states that if the prior estate terminated before the occurrence of the contingency, then the contingent remainders would be destroyed for the lack of a supporting freehold estate.

    Facts. In February of 1908 by separate instruments which were called “conditional deeds” James and Amanda Turknett (grandparents of Defendants) conveyed life estates in two separate parcels to Ruby and Beulah (parents of the Defendants). The deeds called for the property to remain the daughters’ “during her natural life, . . . and at her death to revert, vest in, and become the property absolute of her heir or heirs, meaning her children if she have any at her death, but if she die without heirs, then and in that event this said property and real estate shall vest” in her estate. At the time neither daughter was married and neither daughter had any children. In 1911, the parents gave another deed to Beulah which purported to give “absolute title to the grantee.” Also, there were subsequent deeds on the same parcels to Beulah in 1916 and to Ruby as a “correction deed.” After the deeds had been made Beulah had three children and Ruby had four children. Beulah and Ruby attempted to conv
    ey fee simple interests in the property to predecessors of Plaintiff Abo Petroleum Company. The children of Beulah and Ruby argue that the their parents could only convey life estates in the property to the predecessors of Plaintiff Abo Petroleum Company. The Plaintiff contends that the deeds in 1911 and 1916 vested Beulah and Ruby with fee simple title which was then conveyed to Plaintiff’s predecessors. The lower court found in favor of Abo Petroleum Company and the children appealed.

    Issue. Could the original grantees Beulah and Ruby have received any interest in the deeds which came after the creation of the life estate, such that the contingent remainders of the life estate are destroyed?

    Held. No. Judgment reversed.
    The Court held that the position of Abo Petroleum is that the subsequent conveyances to Beulah and Ruby caused the original grantor’s reversionary interest to merge with the life estates of the daughters and that the contingent remainders to the grandchildren were thus destroyed and the daughters took fee simple possession of the property which they later conveyed to Abo’s predecessors. This is an example of the doctrine of destruction of contingent remainders.
    The Court held that the doctrine of destructibility of contingent remainders has been almost universally rejected by modern authorities. The Court declines to apply the doctrine and finds that the subsequent deeds to Beulah and Ruby have no force and effect.
    The daughters acquired no further interest in the property under the later deeds than what they had already, which was a life estate. Thus, their conveyance to Abo Petroleum’s predecessors could only be that of a life estate, even if it purported to be a fee simple.

    Discussion. This case provides a good discussion of the mechanics of the rule of destruction of contingent remainders. The Court noted that the rule resulted in somewhat arbitrary rulings. Consider the reasoning in that assertion.


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