Plaintiff and defendant are siblings and the nephew and niece, respectively, of the decedent. Prior to his death in November 2014, the decedent owned and operated a dairy farm on his 80-acre parcel of land. Several of the decedent’s family members, including both parties, helped the decedent operate his farm at various times over the years.
Plaintiff testified that he was never paid by the decedent for helping him on the farm. However, he claimed that the decedent had agreed to compensate him by giving him the 80-acre farm, as well as his farm machinery, cattle, and other personal property, upon his death. According to plaintiff, the decedent executed two hand-written documents to this effect on October 20, 2001. Plaintiff testified that he initially spoke with the decedent about the agreement privately, but that defendant was informed of it later and agreed to its terms. Defendant did not recall speaking to plaintiff about the arrangement or seeing the documents that the decedent had written. However, she did not dispute that the decedent had signed the documents.
On January 5, 2010, the decedent executed a quit-claim deed and a deed-of-gift to himself. The quit-claim deed was for the real property. The deed provided that if the decedent had not conveyed the property prior to his death, the property was conveyed to defendant. The deed-of-gift conveyed the decedent’s personal property to himself for his lifetime, including his farm machinery and crops, and upon his death, conveyed it to defendant if he had not previously conveyed the property prior to his death. Additionally, the decedent had executed a last will and testament in 1988 in which he devised his entire estate to defendant, and executed a second will in 2002 in which he also made defendant his sole beneficiary.
Plaintiff filed a petition against defendant seeking to set aside the quit-claim deed and deed-of-gift and claiming an interest in the property through the October 2001 documents. Plaintiff also claimed that if the court did not set aside the deeds, the decedent’s estate would be unjustly enriched by his time and efforts spent farming the decedent’s property without compensation
Defendant filed a motion to dismiss the unjust enrichment action against the estate pursuant to MCR 2.116(C)(7). In an affidavit, she attested to personal knowledge that plaintiff had not worked on the decedent’s farm during the six years before he filed the litigation. She asserted that the unjust enrichment claim against the estate was thus barred by the applicable statute of limitations, MCL 600.5807(8). The court agreed.
The court determined that plaintiff’s documents were ambiguous and concluded that they did not meet the requirements of a recordable document. Plaintiff’s deed for real property did not contain terms of consideration or a legal description, and the conveyance of the decedent’s personal property to plaintiff was defective because plaintiff believed that the document conveyed the personal property to him with immediate effect, but he had left all of the items in the decedent’s possession for 13 years.
The court noted that the decedent had thrice declared his written intent to leave all of his property to defendant: in his 1988 will; in his 2002 will; and in his quit-claim deed and deed of-gift in 2010. Thus, the court found that the decedent intended to leave his property to defendant and that the 2010 quit-claim deed and deed-of-gift were valid conveyances, whereas plaintiff’s 2001 documents were not.
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