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DeAngelis v. DeAngelis

Court of Chancery of Delaware

May 16, 2017

Lois E. DeAngelis, Petitioner,
v.
Joseph A. DeAngelis, Jr., and Cynthia L. DeAngelis, Respondents.

          Submitted: February 3, 2017

         MASTER'S REPORT

          Seth L. Thompson, Esquire, of SERGOVIC CARMEAN WEIDMAN MCCARTNEY & OWENS, P.A., Georgetown, Delaware; Attorney for Petitioner

          Albert M. Greto, Esquire, R. Joseph Hrubiec, Esquire, of the LAW OFFICES OF ALBERT M. GRETO, Wilmington, Delaware; Attorneys for Respondent

          Kim E. Ayvazian Master in Chancery

         Introduction

         A widow is seeking to partition a small parcel of real property located in Millville, Delaware, which she and her husband had purchased with her husband's son and daughter-in-law in March 2006. The recorded deed reflects that each married couple originally held title to an undivided fifty percent interest in the property as tenants by the entireties. Following her husband's death in January 2012, the widow filed in the Register of Wills Office in Sussex County an affidavit of jointly held property, showing title of an undivided fifty percent interest in the real property was now in her sole name. In May 2015, the widow moved to an assisted living facility in New Jersey. After the widow and her stepson were unable to agree on a price for the widow's interest in the property, she filed this action, which is opposed by her stepson and stepdaughter-in-law. They deny that the widow has any ownership interest, alleging instead that she had only a life estate in the real property which terminated when she moved out of state in May 2015. According to the stepson and his wife, title to the real property then passed to the deceased husband's two sons. The stepson and his wife have filed a counterclaim, seeking the imposition of a resulting trust over the real property for the benefit of the deceased husband's sons. Pending before me are the parties' motions for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, I recommend that the Court approve the partition of the real property and dismiss the counterclaim seeking imposition of a resulting trust.

         Factual Background

         In 1994, Petitioner Lois DeAngelis (formerly known as Lois McKenna, hereinafter "Lois") married Joseph DeAngelis, Sr. ("Joseph, Sr.") in New Jersey, where they both resided.[1] A few days before they were married, the couple executed an AnteNuptial Agreement.[2] Paragraph 2.1 of the Agreement defines separate property acquired during the marriage as:

Any property acquired during the marriage in the name of one party or under circumstances in which it is clear that such property was intended to be acquired separately by one party or where the source of the funds or assets by which such separate property was acquired is premarital assets, shall remain the separate property of the party acquiring such assets, including but not limited to any property into which same is converted, any income or other usufruct thereon, increments, accretions, or increases in value of such assets, whether due to market conditions or the services, skills, or efforts of either party, at any time thereto.[3]

         Paragraph 2.3 of the Agreement defines interspousal gifts as:

Any gift or other gratuitous transfers made by one party to the other during the contemplated marriage shall be treated and deemed the separate property of the donee to the extent that the source of funds or assets used in the acquisition of such property was the separate property of the donor, and shall include but not be limited to any property into which same is converted, any income or other usufruct thereon, increments, accretions, or increases in value of such assets, whether due to market conditions or the services, skills, or efforts of either party, to the extent thereof and governed by paragraph 2.1.[4]

         Paragraph 2.4 defines marital property as "[a]ny property acquired during the marriage not deemed to be separate property under Paragraphs 2.1 or 2.2 hereof, [5] shall be treated and deemed to be joint assets acquired during the marriage, except, however, subject to the provisions of Paragraph 2.3."[6]

         Paragraph 6.1 of the Agreement provided that upon the death of Joseph, Sr., his widow would receive:

a life estate in the property located at 5612 Central Avenue, located in the City of Sea Isle, County of Cape May and State of New Jersey, subject to [the widow] being responsible for all expenses of the property, including but not limited to, taxes, sewer, water, insurance, utilities and maintenance and upkeep, and she hereby waives and relinquishes all rights that she may now have or hereafter acquire under present or future laws of any jurisdiction to share in the property of the estate of [Joseph, Sr.] as a result of the marital relationship, including, but not limited to, dower, courtesy, statutory allowances, widow allowances, homestead rights, or rights under N.J.S.A. 3A:35-5 or any other right to take against his last will and testament even if named as a beneficiary therein (unless such last will and testament is executed subsequent to the execution of this agreement), and the right to act as administrator or executor of his estate (unless such right is contained in a last will and testament executed subsequent to the execution hereof).[7]

         On December 20, 2001, Joseph, Sr. and Lois executed an Ante-Nuptial Agreement Modification, in which they agreed to delete Paragraphs 6.1 and 6.2 and to insert a new Paragraph 6.1 that stated:

Each party hereto agrees to and accepts the terms and provisions of the Last Wills and Testament each has executed the 20th day of December, 2001. Each party agrees that such Last Wills and Testaments are to be in full force and effect and that such Last Wills and Testaments are not to be changed or modified in any way without the written consent of both parties hereto. In consideration of the above, each party hereto waives and relinquishes his or her right to an elective share or any right or claim he or she may have against the other party's estate other than claims or rights arising out of the Last Wills and Testaments dated December 20, 2001.[8]

         On the same date, the couple executed their wills. In his Last Will and Testament, Joseph, Sr., gave his spouse:

The right to reside in my real property known as 5612 Central Avenue, Sea Isle City, New Jersey, for her lifetime subject to the following provisions.
i. My spouse shall have the right to reside at the property for her life time, provided she pays all bills in a timely manner and resides at such property at least six (6) months per year.
ii. In the event she fails to pay the bills of the residence in a timely manner, or fails to reside at the property for six (6) months a year, then at such time, the life estate shall end and the property shall pass as set forth hereafter.
iii. Upon the death of my spouse, or earlier, in the event she shall fail to satisfy the conditions above, the aforesaid real estate shall pass equally to my children then surviving.[9]

         The balance of Joseph, Sr.'s residuary estate was to pass equally to his surviving children.[10] Joseph, Sr. also named his spouse as executrix of his estate.[11]

         In October 2005, Joseph, Sr. executed an agreement to purchase real property located at 129 Naomi Drive, Millville, Delaware 19967 (hereinafter "129 Naomi Drive") for $480, 000.[12] Settlement occurred on March 6, 2006.[13] According to the settlement sheet, 129 Naomi Drive was purchased with a cash deposit of $5, 000.00, a loan from Flagstar Bank, FSB in the amount of $384, 000.00, which was secured by a mortgage, a second mortgage in the amount of $96, 016.16, and a credit from the realtors in the amount of $7, 200.00.[14] The borrowers listed on the settlement sheet were Joseph, Sr., Lois, Joseph, Jr., and Cynthia. Each borrower signed the settlement sheet, although Joseph, Jr. signed on behalf of his wife as her power of attorney. The second mortgage was also in the name of these four borrowers, who signed the HUD settlement statement in the same manner.[15]

         The deed was prepared by a title company, and named "Joseph A. DeAngelis, Sr., and Lois E. DeAngelis, as to an undivided 50% interest, as Tenants by the Entirety, Joseph A. DeAngelis, Jr., and Cynthia L. DeAngelis, as to an undivided 50% interest, as Tenants by the Entirety, of 129 Naomi Drive, Millville, DE 19967, parties of the second part."[16] The deed was recorded on March 10, 2006, in Deed Book 3280 on page 157. The two mortgages described the four borrowers as "JOSEPH A DE ANGELIS A Married Man and LOIS E DE ANGELIS A Married Woman and CYNTHIA L DEANGELIS A Married Woman and JOSEPH A DEANGELIS A Married Man, AS JOINT TENANTS."[17] The borrowers initialed these documents with Joseph, Jr. initialing on behalf of Cynthia as her power of attorney.[18]

         After the above purchase agreement was executed but before settlement occurred, Joseph, Sr. allegedly wrote what is now described by Respondents as "the 2006 Letter of Intent." The 2006 Letter of Intent is typewritten. It allegedly was signed by Joseph, Sr. on February 6, 2006, but the signature was not witnessed nor notarized. The letter states:

It is my intention and desire that should I become deceased or unable to communicate effectively, that a portion of the monies from the sale of the property known as 5612 Central Ave, Sea Isle City, New Jersey be used to satisfy the mortgage on the property known as 129 Naomi Drive, Ocean View, Delaware. The balance of the money less $200, 000 is to go to my sons Joseph A. De Angelis Jr and Todd C. De Angelis. The $200, 000 is to be given to my wife Lois De Angelis.
It is also my desire that the property known as 129 Naomi Drive be treated as though it was 5612 Central Ave as depicted in my last will and testament.
This agreement is to be in effect as long as there is a mortgage on the Naomi Drive property or another agreement is made and all parties agree to it.[19]

         A mortgage satisfaction piece, dated September 6, 2006, was recorded in the Office of the Recorder of Deeds on October 4th for each of the two mortgages encumbering 129 Naomi Drive.[20] On September 13, 2006, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control's Division of Water Resources issued a Subaqueous Lands Lease to Joseph, Sr. to repair the dock at 129 Naomi ...


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