Would you give your son $20,000.00 to keep safe for you? Would you put your son’s name on the title of your home? That’s exactly what my client, Gabriela did. Gabriela’s 30-year-old son, Jason, came to her one day and asked her to put him on title so that if anything happened to her, then this would be a form and estate planning. He said that he would take care of all paperwork and all she had to do is sign in front of a notary public. He also convinced her to open up a bank account in his name so that she could deposit $20,000.00 that he would keep for her for safekeeping.
After she signed the deed, Jason returned to her requesting that she sign a document which stated that the property was a complete gift to him so that he would not have to pay transfer taxes. English is not her first language, but she knew that she had not given the house as a “Gift“. When she told him “no”, he got angry and said, “It’s too late. The house is mine. There is nothing that you can do to get it back. Sue me if you think you have a chance to get it back!“
This was her favorite son and she was shocked by his behavior. Gabriela had already put $20,000.00 into a bank account titled only in his name and now he was “stealing” the house that she owed money against .
Gabriela sought the aid of her husband, but Jason ignored the pleas of his father to return the property. She went to her other sons to convince their brother to listen to his mother, but this caused more problems. Her oldest son tried to convince Gabriela to let Jason keep the house. He reasoned that since Jason was already paying rent and living in the home with his family that he should keep the home. Her youngest son wasn’t successful in convincing Jason. He received threats from Jason when he tried to convince Jason to give the property back to their mother.
Gabriela went to the San Diego County Recorder’s Office to keep the offending deed from being recorded but they couldn’t help her. She went to her mortgage broker who couldn’t help. After a month of begging Jason to return the property, Gabriela came to me, Andrew H. Griffin, III, at the Law Offices of Andrew H. Griffin, III. I am a real estate and bankruptcy attorney licensed to practice law in the State of California.
I immediately filed a lawsuit to Quiet Title in the Superior Court of California, County of San Diego and obtained a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) to keep Jason from selling, transferring or getting a loan on the house. I was assured by Jason’s attorney after successfully converting the TRO into a Permanent Injunction that Jason would quickly sign the property back to his Mother. However, instead of quickly resolving the problem, Jason intentionally made things worse.
Jason was not paying the $1,500.00 monthly rent that he had paid in the years that he lived in the home. Gabriela had to pay the mortgage on the home where she was residing and pay the taxes, insurance and the mortgage on the home where Jason was residing. It was extremely difficult to make these payments on a custodian’s salary. She had to pay to keep the home from foreclosure by paying the mortgages. She had the additional burden to pay for attorney’s fees and costs to fight the misrepresentations and fraud of her “favorite” son.
Jason testified under penalty of perjury in his deposition that he had been paying rent to his mother but she accepted only cash and refused to provide receipts. Even after I reminded him that he would need proof of payment in Court, he refused my offers to pay the rent through my law office so that his payments could be properly credited.
The actions by her son cut deep into their relationship. She was not able to see her grandchildren. The crisis divided her family. The months continued to pass adding the financial and emotional stress to Gabriela. Her husband lost his job and she began to have more difficulty paying for the mortgages. She cashed out her retirement accounts which caused her to incur income tax obligations and penalties to the IRS.
Jason tried to add to the hardship by requesting a continuance of the trial date. Jason even went to court to compel Wells Fargo bank to declare the mortgage immediately due and payable because he claimed that his mother had violated the terms of the loan agreement (the due on transfer clause) by putting his name on the home. It was difficult to believe that a son, a favorite son, would do this to his mother.
The first day of trial, August 26, 2013, was difficult for me because my father was visiting me for three weeks. I was angry that I had to spend my time in trial preparation and in trial while my father was vacationing in my home. I couldn’t understand why Jason’s attorney would allow this case to go to trial especially since he told me at its inception that his client would turn over the home to his mother.
My father was with me in the courtroom on the first day of trial. In opening arguments I started to tell the Judge the facts of the case and what I expected the evidence to show. During my rehearsed and prepared speech I started to feel an emotion that I had never felt in my 30 years of practicing law while arguing before the court.
I could feel my voice start to crack. I felt tears well up in my eyes. I was starting to cry. I cried before the judge!
It seemed like an eternity between the time that I was able to get my voice back without crying. There was complete silence in the courtroom while I, the professional attorney, was choking back tears. All I could think was “my father came all the way from the east coast to see his son obtain justice for his deserving client, but all he sees is me crying in front of the Judge.”
Yesterday, October 10, 2013, we received the decision from the Honorable Kevin Enright, judge of the Superior Court of California for the County of San Diego. He granted our complaint to quiet title. He ruled that the deed transferring the home was invalid and ordered the return of the home to my client. He awarded the $20,000.00 that was put into the son’s bank account returned to Gabriela. The judge was also convinced that Jason had not paid the monthly rent of $1,500.00 since April of 2012, (Even though Jason and Jason’s wife testified that Jason’s wife handed cash to Gabriela each month) and ordered Jason to pay the rent from April 2012 to present.
The final award was over $50,000.00 which Jason was ordered to pay Gabriela. The Court also granted her title to a home worth over a half million dollars. Unfortunately, the loss of the mother and son relationship was priceless.