Delcour v. Rakestraw, 340 S.W.3d 320 (Mo.App. S.D. 2011)

Factual Background:

In 1998, Rakestraw’s mother-in-law gifted Rakestraw’s husband 80 acres to be solely his property.  Rakestraw and her husband immediately executed and recorded a beneficiary deed that conveyed title to two of the husband’s children, but the deed stated it was not effective until both the grantors died.  When Rakestraw’s husband died intestate in 2001, a partition suit was filed in 2003, and the case was tried in 2008.          

Douglas County Circuit Court, J. Justus, Held: 

The trial court ruled the 1998 beneficiary deed was valid and conveyed husband’s property that he solely-owned to his children upon his death.  Rakestraw appealed.

Court of Appeals, C.J. Scott, Held:

Reversed and Remanded.  The trial court erred in finding the deed was valid.      Contrary to common law, Missouri does authorize beneficiary deeds by statute if the properly recorded deed expressly states it does not take effect until the owner’s death.  Section 461.025.1.

Considerable attention was given to the 2004 case of Pippin v. Pippin.  In Pippin, whose facts were similar to this case, the beneficiary deed would not take effect until both the owner and non-owner died. The Court found this was not valid as a beneficiary deed because it was executed, in part, by a non-owner.

In this case, the parties on appeal agreed that Pippin supports reversal unless the post-Pippin 2005 statutory amendment, which adds text to the definition of “owner” to include joint owners, demanded a different result.  The Court found it does not.  The amendment does not expand, contract or otherwise change who is owner by statute—it merely serves as a confirmation of what is already true.  A non-owner, such as Rakestraw, is not a joint owner, and therefore, cannot execute a deed.

Court of Appeals, J. Francis, Concurring Opinion:

Agreeing with the principal, he urged that neither Pippin nor this case should be read as condemnation of beneficiary deeds.