IN THE MATTER OF TAX PARCEL NO. 09-008.00-001, ALSO KNOWN AS 1035 CREEK ROAD, NEWARK, DELAWARE 19711
JAMES P. KRAPF, SR. AND SUZANNE J. KRAPF, and THE STATE OF DELAWARE and THE ESTATE OF JUNE B. KRAPF, Respondents. SARA W.P. KRAPF, Petitioner,
Submitted: November 24, 2014
William P. Brady and William L. O'Day, of WOLOSHIN, LYNCH, NATALIE & GAGNE, P.A., Wilmington, Delaware, Attorneys for Petitioner Sara W.P. Krapf.
David H. Williams, of MORRIS JAMES LLP, Wilmington, Delaware, Attorney for Respondents James P. Krapf, Sr., and Suzanne J. Krapf.
Ralph K. Durstein III, STATE OF DELAWARE, DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Dover, Delaware, Attorney for Respondent State of Delaware.
Sam Glasscock III, Vice Chancellor
This matter involves a melancholy family dispute over real property originally part of the homestead of the parents of the current litigants. The property was conveyed by deed to two of the Respondents, and was later, as a result of the failure of the family business, sold to the Respondent State of Delaware. The Petitioner contends that the parents' signatures in execution of the deed to the Respondents-Petitioner's brother- and sister-in-law-were forged. She seeks the aid of equity to rescind this deed, as well as the subsequent deed out to the State. The State is currently using the property, located near Newark, as park land. Under the Petitioner's conception, this property would then pass under the estate of her mother-in-law. The estate is also a party respondent.
The determinative issue before me is whether the deed from the parents to the Respondents is invalid as a product of forgery. That limited issue was the subject of an evidentiary hearing on October 30, 2014. The following decision is based upon my findings of fact resulting from that hearing. Because I find that the Petitioner has failed to prove forgery by evidence that is clear and convincing, the Petition to Set Aside Conveyance of Real Property is denied.
I. BACKGROUND FACTS
The following are the facts as I find them after the evidentiary hearing.
A. The Disputed Land
The land in dispute in this case once belonged to Frederic G. Krapf, Jr. ("Frederic") and his wife June Krapf ("June"). It is located on Creek Road in New Castle County near Newark (the "Creek Road Property"). Frederic and June had three children: Frederic III ("Mickey"), James ("Jimmy"), and Thomas ("Tommy.")
In 1976, Frederic and June transferred to Tommy and his wife, Sara ("Sally"), the Petitioner, a portion of the Creek Road Property; that portion is now identified as Tax Parcel 09-008.00-005 ("Parcel 5"). Tommy and Sally took out a loan to allow Tommy, with Jimmy's help, to build a house on the land. It was Frederic and June's intent that the other half of the Creek Road Property, now identified as Tax Parcel 09-008.00-001 ("Parcel 1"), go to Jimmy. In fact, Jimmy "paid" his father for the property by allowing Frederic to retain $25, 000, which otherwise would have been distributed to Jimmy in or around 1975 under the trust of Frederic Krapf, Sr., Jimmy's grandfather. Instead of contemporaneously transferring title to Jimmy, however, Frederic held the deed because of concerns that Jimmy would lose the land in a divorce or an unfortunate business deal. Over the years, Jimmy, eventually with his wife Suzanne, lived in a house on the questioned land, made a number of improvements to the property, and paid property taxes, although they did not have the deed in hand.
Frederic ultimately gave Jimmy the deed to Parcel 1 in 1996, naming Jimmy and Suzanne as transferees, handing it to him one day at the family's place of business, where both worked. The deed was executed, purportedly, by Frederic and June. Mickey Krapf testified at his deposition that he acted as a witness to his parents' signatures on that deed, and that those signatures were genuine. As a beneficiary of a one-third interest in the residue of his mother's estate, Mickey's testimony was against his interest; if not for the transfer of the property to Jimmy, Mickey would have inherited a one-third interest in Parcel 1.
Jimmy put the deed in his office, where it remained for approximately two years, until he sent it to a cousin and lawyer, Robert Krapf, to be recorded. Robert sent it back upon noticing the deed had not been notarized; Frederic and June then had the deed notarized and sent back to Robert to ...