A Labyrinth Unraveled

by David Walker, Member of ILTA Communications Committee

Candie Kane and her cousin, Ken U. Topthis, had signed a contract to sell 5 Beach Comer Lane in Harborside, USA. The vacation property had been in the family for years. Many a family reunion were had on the pristine shores of Lake Bottom, but it was now time to sell. Except for one problem. To their dismay, they didn’t own it outright.

Way back in 1970, there was a deed conveying title to Mary Smith and Frank N. Stein. Subsequently, about 5 years later, Frank died. After his death, the executor of his estate, John Stein, conveyed title, along with the heirs, to three individuals, John, Jane and Mark Stein.

Thirteen years later, John and Jane each deeded their portion via quit claim deeds to their cousin, Ken U. Topthis. Mark retained his portion. Then, fourteen years later, Ken deeded his portion to Ken and Wendy Topthis, as Trustees of the Ken U. Topthis Living Trust. Mark died in 2019 which then prompted his heirs to deed his portion to a cousin on their mom’s side, Candie Kane.

Now, here we are in 2020, and Ms. Kane and the Topthis’s are selling the property. No mention of Mary Smith. While this did not end up in a claim, it illustrates the protection afforded owner’s of real property by our industry.

Through a careful examination of the property, Ms. Smith’s interests have been rediscovered. It will most likely take some time and effort to track Mary down, if she is even still alive. If not, her heirs need to be found. As to how this gets resolved is anyone’s guess but I do know the Mary Smith family has a surprise waiting for them and my company dodged a bullet through the diligent work of a good title examiner.