In In re Charles E. Estate of Duke, No. 321234, the Court of Appeals held that the probate court erred in setting aside a deed solely due to a defect in the acknowledgment without also finding a lack of good faith or valuable consideration, or the presence of another invalidating circumstance such as fraud, coercion, or undue influence.
Charles Duke, the decedent, executed a quitclaim deed for property on Inkster Road to his sons, Charles Franklin Duke and Robert Duke. The decedent passed away on September 23, 2009. Subsequently, Robert Duke was appointed personal representative of the decedent’s estate and when he filed his initial inventory of the estate he failed to include the Inkster Road property.
Petitioners filed a petition to determine title to the Inkster Road property and set aside the quitclaim deed. Petitioners had three primary arguments: 1) the quitclaim deed was fraudulent and void because it was not properly notarized; 2) Robert Duke procured the notarization of the quitclaim deed to benefit himself because the signed notary, E.A. Labadie, was one of his employees; and 3) the deed was never actually delivered. Labadie executed an affidavit stating that she witnessed the execution “on or about April 13, 2009” and that the “May 14, 2007” date written and printed on the deed was incorrect.
The probate court held a hearing on the petition and on March 17, 2014, it entered an opinion and order to set aside the deed and consider the Inkster Road property as part of the decedent’s estate. The court believed that the deed was actually executed on May 14, 2007, a time when Labadie was not a notary public, and therefore, the court found that the deed was not validly notarized.
The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the probate court’s holding because it failed to recognize that under Michigan law an invalid acknowledgment does not render void an otherwise valid conveyance of real estate. Furthermore, the court held that remand was necessary for the trial court to also make factual determinations to resolve petitioners’ additional claims.