After Acquired Title Doctrine

On November 16, 2011, Florida’s First District Court of Appeal issued an opinion in Layne v. Estate of Layne which discusses the doctrine of after-acquired title and its interaction with intestacy laws. ____So.3d ____, 2011 WL 5560563 (Fla. 1st DCA Nov. 16, 2011).  Though not groundbreaking in its application or interpretation of the law, the case is helpful in explaining the after-acquired title doctrine.

In Layne, the appellant acquired a one-half interest in a townhouse as joint tenants with right of survivorship.  His father and his stepmother, as husband and wife, owned the remaining one-half interest.  Five years later, the appellant quit claimed his interest to his father and stepmother, who were then divorced.  Thus, the father and mother each owned 50% of the townhouse as tenants in common.  Several years later, the father died intestate.

The stepmother (the appellee in this case) filed a petition for subsequent summary administration, asking the court to distribute the father’s one-half interest in the townhouse to the stepmother and the appellant’s sister.  The stepmother argued that because the appellant had quit claimed his interest in the townhouse, the doctrine of after-acquired title prohibited him from receiving any interest in the property through the intestacy laws.  Amazingly, the trial court agreed and ordered the father’s interest to be distributed equally to the stepmother and the appellant’s sister.

In reversing the trial court’s decision, the First DCA explained that the doctrine of after-acquired title applies when a person purports to convey an interest in property that he does not then possess and then, after actually obtaining that interest, seeks to avoid the consequences of the conveyance on the ground that he had no interest to convey in the first place.  The doctrine is intended to address fraud or inequity, neither of which was present in the Layne case.  Moreover, the appellant actually owned an interest in the townhouse when he conveyed it to his father and stepmother.  Thus, the doctrine of after-acquired title had no application in this case.

In the trial court, the stepmother further argued that by quit-claiming his interest to the father and stepmother, the appellant conveyed all interest he had in the property, including the right to later inherit an interest in the property through intestacy laws.  The First DCA disagreed with this argument, stating that although it is possible to convey an expectancy, the quit claim deed in this case did not expressly convey any future right to the property acquired by virtue of an expectancy, such as a will or via intestacy.   Furthermore, by quit claiming his interest in the property, the appellant conveyed only that interest which he had at the time he signed the deed, and according to the court, an expectancy is not an interest in property.

The court concluded that the father’s interest in the townhouse should have been distributed one-half to the appellant, and one-half to the appellant’s sister.  It seems clear that the appellate court got it right, correcting an error not just in law, but also in equity.

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