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Who owns the property
On occasion, an attorney contesting a will will run across a Deed to a Trustee when there is no trust. For instance a deed that is given “To John Smith, Trustee.” There are no documents showing that a trust ever existed. The question comes up about ownership of the property. Does the person listed as trustee own the property outright? Is it owned by someone else? How do you untangle the title to the property?
Courts have devised several ways to handle these situations based on the facts of the case. If the deed shows that the property was given for consideration paid by the person named as trustee, then that person named trustee owns the property outright. Even though he is listed as trustee, he has full ownership of the property if no trust document is found.
On the other hand, if the deed does not indicate that consideration was involved, a resulting trust is said to exist. In a resulting trust, the original grantor, the person who gave the deed to the person named “as trustee” retains ownership of the property. If that person is dead, his heirs own the property. Compare 802sw2d880 with 564sw2d404.
Title search after conveyance
When not considering ownership but just considering whether a deed from a “Trustee” is valid then the mere designation of a party as “Trustee,” “as Trustee,” or “Agent” following the name of a grantee, without additional language actually identifying a trust, does not in itself create a trust and it does not give notice or put an examiner upon inquiry that a trust does exist or that any person other than the present grantee has a beneficial interest. 12SW2d175, 137ALR460, 462-65; 682SW2d246. This “blind trustee” concept was first enacted into statutory form as a conveyancing statute. This statute was used for many years to avoid filing trust instruments of record and to escape the formality of creating a trust where title was held by a “nominee.” For example, when a conveyance is made to “Jack Smith, Trustee” and the creating instrument does not identify a trust or the name of any beneficiary, the trustee may “convey, transfer, or encumber the title of the property without subsequent question by a person who claims to be a beneficiary under a trust or who claims by, through, or under any undisclosed beneficiary or by, through, or under the person designated as trustee in that person’s individual capacity.” TPC § 101.001. Moreover, in this situation, “the trust property is not liable to satisfy the personal obligations of the trustee.” TPC § 101.002. See also TCP § 114.082 and 164SW2d488.
If there is no subsequent conveyance out of the “blind trust” and no other evidence that a trust exists, record title to the property interest in question is deemed to be in the named trustee or the trustee’s successors. 802 S.W.2d 880.
Recent cases where the trust instrument can’t be found
A 2016 case shows additional complications that arise when a trust instrument doesn’t exist. No. 03-13-00768-CV.