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Grimes v. Gouldmann

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

March 29, 2017

JOHN PAUL GRIMES, ET AL
v.
KAREN GOULDMANN, ET AL

          Graeff, Nazarian, Zarnoch, Robert A., (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned), JJ.

          OPINION

          ZARNOCH, J.

         This case involves the validity of two competing deeds for the same property. In 1990, Dianne Hudson executed a deed for her property, where she reserved a life estate for herself and granted the remaining interest to three of her relatives, appellees Karen Gouldmann, Bryan Mierzwinski, and Vernon Ciekot. The deed also gave Ms. Hudson the power to "sell, mortgage, lease or otherwise encumber" both her interest and the interest of the remaindermen in the property. Nineteen years later, Ms. Hudson executed a new deed for the same property, where she again gave herself a life estate, but gifted the remaining interest to appellants John Paul Grimes and Tamra Hellenbrand. After Ms. Hudson's death, appellees filed suit in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County alleging that the second deed was invalid, because the first deed did not give Ms. Hudson the power to gift the property. After a trial, the court agreed with appellees and found the second deed to be invalid.

         Appellants appealed, and now present one question for our review:

Did the 1990 Deed grant Ms. Hudson the power to dispose of the interest of the remaindermen by way of a gift?[1]

         For the following reasons, we answer no and affirm the judgment of the circuit court.

         BACKGROUND

         Dianne Hudson was the owner of the property located at 1821 Ellinwood Road in Baltimore County ("the Property").[2] Ms. Hudson had no children. Appellees Karen Gouldmann and Bryan Mierzwinski were Ms. Hudson's niece and nephew. Appellee Vernon Ciekot was Ms. Hudson's cousin. On August 28, 1990, Ms. Hudson executed a deed ("the 1990 Deed") which gave herself a life estate in the Property, with the remainder fee simple interest granted to appellees as joint tenants.[3] The 1990 Deed, however, among other things, reserved to Ms. Hudson the right to sell both her life estate and the entire interest of the remaindermen in the Property at any point prior to her death. Included in the 1990 Deed was the following language:

TO HAVE AND TO HOLD the above granted land and improvements unto and to the use of the said Dianne A. Hudson for the term of her natural life so that she, the said Dianne A. Hudson, during the term of her life may and shall be authorized and empowered to take, receive and collect the rents, income, issues and profits thereof and appropriate and apply the same to her own use and benefit, with full power to the said Dianne A. Hudson at any time during her life to sell, mortgage, lease or otherwise encumber not only the life estate hereby conveyed to her, but the interest of the remaindermen in this Deed appointed, to the end and intent that Dianne A. Hudson during her lifetime may, by her own act and deed, fully and effectually bar and extinguish her own interest and the interest of said remaindermen in such manner as she may deem proper without any obligation on the part of any purchaser, lessee or mortgagee to see the application of the money derived from the said property (but the powers of disposition hereby granted to that life tenant hereinbefore referred to are not intended to vest in her the right and power to will or devise the property hereinbefore described, or to dispose of the same by any testamentary instrument), and upon the death of said life tenant, unto the said Karen Gouldmann, Bryan Mierzwinski and Vernon Ciekot as joint tenants and not tenants in common, their assigns, the survivors of them; the survivor of them and the survivor's Personal Representative and assigns, forever, in fee simple.

(Emphasis added).

         Many years later, in either late 2007 or early 2008, Ms. Hudson hired appellant John Paul Grimes to do repair work on her house. Soon afterwards, appellant Grimes moved into Ms. Hudson's basement with his girlfriend, appellant Tamra Hellenbrand. On September 17, 2009, Ms. Hudson executed a second deed for the same Property (the "2009 Deed"). With the 2009 Deed, Ms. Hudson again reserved a life estate in the Property for herself, but gifted the remaining interest to appellants. Included in the 2009 Deed was the following language:

The Grantor, for no consideration, grants and conveys to the Grantee, for and during the term of her natural life, with no power to sell, lease, mortgage, convey or in any manner dispose the hereinafter described property, and immediately upon her death, the remainder thereof shall vest in John Paul Grimes and Tamra Hellenbrand, equally, as tenants in common, the personal representatives and assigns of each, in fee simple, the property located in Baltimore County, Maryland, . . .
* * *
To have and to hold the property hereby conveyed unto the Grantee, for and during the term of her natural life, with no power to sell, lease, mortgage, convey or in any manner dispose of the afore-described property, and immediately upon her death, the remainder thereof unto John Paul Grimes and Tamra Hellenbrand, equally as tenants in common, the personal representatives, heirs and assigns of each, in fee simple, forever.

(Emphasis added).

         On September 16, 2010, Ms. Hudson prepared a Last Will and Testament and a Durable General Power of Attorney, conferring on appellee Gouldmann a power of attorney. On January 28, 2015, under her power of attorney, appellee Gouldmann filed a lawsuit against appellants seeking to invalidate the 2009 ...


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