In the Matter of the Estate of: AUGUSTA A. GANONI, Deceased;
JOY GAARDE-MORTON, as Putative Trustee of the AUGUSTA A. GANONI RESTATED REVOCABLE TRUST DATED AUGUST 7, 2000; RESTATEMENT DATED NOVEMBER 19, 2012, Defendant/Appellee WHITNEY L. SORRELL, a single man, Plaintiff/Appellant,
Appeal from the Superior Court in Maricopa County. No. PB 2013-050975. The Honorable Edward W. Bassett, Judge.
For Plaintiff/Appellant: Libby Hougland Banks, The Law Office of Libby Banks, Phoenix.
For Defendant/Appellee: Kevin J. Parker and Cory L. Braddock, Kevin J. Parker and Cory L. Braddock.
Judge Andrew W. Gould delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Presiding Judge Randall M. Howe and Judge Peter B. Swann joined.
[¶1] Whitney Sorrell appeals the trial court's judgment invalidating a beneficiary deed. We affirm, and hold that only a natural person who owns real property can execute a beneficiary deed pursuant to Arizona Revised Statute (" A.R.S." ) section 33-405.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
[¶2] In 2003, Augusta Ganoni executed a beneficiary deed to transfer her residence (the " House" ) to her attorney, Sorrell, at her death. The House was property of the Augusta A. Ganoni Revocable Trust as restated in 2000. Ganoni was both settlor and trustee of the Trust. Ganoni signed the beneficiary deed in her capacity as trustee and directed that the House would transfer to Sorrell upon her death.
[¶3] On October 13, 2011, Ganoni filed an amendment to the Trust whereby she resigned as Trustee and Sorrell was appointed as Trustee. In November 2012, Ganoni again restated the Trust. Ganoni selected Appellee, Joy Gaarde-Morton, to be trustee rather than Sorrell. Under the terms of the 2012 restatement, Sorrell would no longer receive the House at Ganoni's death. Instead, the 2012 restatement provided Sorrell a gift of $10,000.00 and directed that the House would remain trust property to be sold, if necessary, to fulfill the gifts listed in the Trust.
[¶4] Ganoni passed away in December 2012. In March 2013, Sorrell filed a petition for formal probate of Ganoni's estate-planning documents from 2000. Sorrell sought appointment as personal representative and, based on the beneficiary deed, requested the court to transfer the House to him. Gaarde-Morton objected to Sorrell's petition and filed a petition for formal probate stating that she was the trustee pursuant to the 2012 restatement.
[¶5] Sorrell and Gaarde-Morton then filed cross-motions for summary judgment on the issue of whether the beneficiary deed purporting to transfer the House to Sorrell at Ganoni's death was valid and enforceable. Following oral argument, the court granted Gaarde-Morton's motion and denied Sorrell's. The court concluded the House was a trust asset and, based on A.R.S. § 33-405, could not be conveyed using a beneficiary deed. The court also awarded Gaarde-Morton $12,000.00 in attorneys' fees pursuant to A.R.S. § 12-1103.
[¶6] Sorrell filed a motion for new trial. He reasoned that Ganoni's conveyance of the House in her capacity as both trustee and settlor of the Trust was authorized by A.R.S. § 33-405. In the alternative, Sorrell asked the court to reform the deed to reflect Ganoni's intent that Sorrell receive the House upon her death. The court denied Sorrell's motion and ...