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Agreement To Convey Half Interest In Home May Be Valid

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JUNE 21, 1999 VOLUME 6, NUMBER 51

Sylvia Ann Patterson and Dennis Strickland began seeing each other socially in 1963. After Ms. Patterson’s divorce in 1969, their relationship continued to intensify, until Ms. Patterson moved into Mr. Strickland’s mobile home in 1975. That year, Mr. Strickland bought a new home in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the couple moved in together.

The new home was purchased in Mr. Strickland’s name alone, and made the down payment of over $8,000. He also signed the note for the balance of the purchase price, over $30,000.00, and obligated himself to make monthly payments of $256 for ten years to pay the note off. From the beginning, however, Ms. Patterson made payments to Mr. Strickland of $160 per month.

After the balance of the home had been paid off, Ms. Patterson continued to make her monthly payments to Mr. Strickland. She began to note that the payments were for “rent” on the description line of her checks.

In 1990, over a quarter century after the couple first began their relationship, Ms. Patterson became suspicious about the possibility that her niece was seeing Mr. Strickland. When she confronted them about her fears, Mr. Strickland broke off his relationship with Ms. Patterson and moved out of the house. Five years later, he married Ms. Patterson’s niece, and asked Ms. Patterson to vacate the residence.

Ms. Patterson responded by filing suit against Mr. Strickland. She alleged that there had been an agreement between the two of them, and that her payments had been her share of the contribution to purchase of the home. Now, she argued, she owned a half interest in the home. She did not oppose the sale of the residence, but sought half the proceeds from that sale.

Ms. Patterson relied on several legal theories for her claim. She first argued that the court should impose a trust on the property, based on the couple’s alleged agreement to purchase the home as a couple and her contribution to the mortgage payments. This kind of trust, a so-called “resulting trust,” would require Mr. Strickland to convey a one-half interest in the property to Ms. Patterson.

Her second argument also addressed a special kind of trust. A “constructive trust” could be imposed if Ms. Patterson could show that the parties had a “confidential relationship” and that Mr. Strickland had abused that relationship.

Finally, Ms. Patterson argued that she and Mr. Strickland had entered into a contract to purchase the property together, and that he should be compelled to complete the terms of the contract. She acknowledged that the contract was not in writing.

At trial, the judge dismissed all of Ms. Patterson’s claims except the allegation of breach of contract. A jury decided that there was a contract between the parties, and the judge therefore ordered that Ms. Patterson was a half-owner of the property. Both parties appealed.

The North Carolina Court of Appeals sent the matter back for another trial. The appellate judges decided that the contract claim was barred by the Statute of Frauds, which requires that contracts involving real property be reduced to writing. On the other hand, reasoned the Court of Appeals, Ms. Patterson should be given a chance to prove her allegations that Mr. Strickland had an equitable obligation to her, and that he breached his duty to her by failing to transfer the property into joint names. Patterson v. Strickland, June 15, 1999.

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Robert B. Fleming


Robert Fleming is a Fellow of both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been certified as a Specialist in Estate and Trust Law by the State Bar of Arizona‘s Board of Legal Specialization, and he is also a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Robert has a long history of involvement in local, state and national organizations. He is most proud of his instrumental involvement in the Special Needs Alliance, the premier national organization for lawyers dealing with special needs trusts and planning.

Robert has two adult children, two young grandchildren and a wife of over fifty years. He is devoted to all of them. He is also very fond of Rosalind Franklin (his office companion corgi), and his homebound cat Muninn. He just likes people, their pets and their stories.

Elizabeth N.R. Friman


Elizabeth Noble Rollings Friman is a principal and licensed fiduciary at Fleming & Curti, PLC. Elizabeth enjoys estate planning and helping families navigate trust and probate administrations. She is passionate about the fiduciary work that she performs as a trustee, personal representative, guardian, and conservator. Elizabeth works with CPAs, financial professionals, case managers, and medical providers to tailor solutions to complex family challenges. Elizabeth is often called upon to serve as a neutral party so that families can avoid protracted legal conflict. Elizabeth relies on the expertise of her team at Fleming & Curti, and as the Firm approaches its third decade, she is proud of the culture of care and consideration that the Firm embodies. Finding workable solutions to sensitive and complex family challenges is something that Elizabeth and the Fleming & Curti team do well.

Amy F. Matheson


Amy Farrell Matheson has worked as an attorney at Fleming & Curti since 2006. A member of the Southern Arizona Estate Planning Council, she is primarily responsible for estate planning and probate matters.

Amy graduated from Wellesley College with a double major in political science and English. She is an honors graduate of Suffolk University Law School and has been admitted to practice in Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Prior to joining Fleming & Curti, Amy worked for American Public Television in Boston, and with the international trade group at White & Case, LLP, in Washington, D.C.

Amy’s husband, Tom, is an astronomer at NOIRLab and the Head of Time Domain Services, whose main project is ANTARES. Sadly, this does not involve actual time travel. Amy’s twin daughters are high school students; Finn, her Irish Red and White Setter, remains a puppy at heart.

Famous people's wills

Matthew M. Mansour


Matthew is a law clerk who recently earned his law degree from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. His undergraduate degree is in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Matthew has had a passion for advocacy in the Tucson community since his time as a law student representative in the Workers’ Rights Clinic. He also has worked in both the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. He enjoys playing basketball, caring for his cat, and listening to audiobooks narrated by the authors.