Joni Green, Senior Escrow Officer at Chicago Title's Littleton, Colorado office, prevented an escrow loss and a title claim by trusting her instincts. Joni was finishing a closing late Halloween 2014. It was her last closing of the day and it was no ordinary transaction.
To begin with, the property was owned by a 79–year–old husband and his wife, who was 71 years of age. Title was held in joint tenancy. The husband was deceased, and Joni had reviewed the supplementary affidavit and the death certificate needed for this type of transaction involving a joint tenancy survivorship. Everything appeared to be in order. Additionally, the son had a power of attorney to sign on behalf of his mother.
Joni questioned the son as to the reason he needed the power of attorney to sign for his mother, and was told his mother was competent and alive, but was not coming to the closing. The buyers, their lender and their real estate broker were present and were listening to the son as he reluctantly provided information about his mother's whereabouts.
Towards the end of the closing, Joni left the closing room to check on funding and the son followed her, making a request for the seller's proceeds to be wired to his personal account. Joni explained it was not possible, but would gladly wire the funds to his mother's account. The son explained it was also not possible because the mother's accounts were closed to avoid "claims."
Joni continued to question the son and learned that his mother was in jail. The son then requested a cashier's check in his mother's name. This is where it got spooky and where Joni's instincts kicked in and she sensed something was wrong.
The son left the room and Joni re–examined the death certificate of the deceased husband. The certificate stated that the cause of death was due to a stab wound to the chest. Joni summoned the son and his real estate broker to her office to further investigate. Upon questioning, the son admitted that his mother was in jail for the murder of his father.
Joni sensed something was still not right and contacted her Colorado State Counsel. Joni's suspicions were confirmed when she was told that pursuant to an obscure Colorado statute, the felonious killing of a decedent severs the interests of the decedent and killer when their joint property is held in joint tenancy, transforming the interests of the deceased and killer into tenancies in common.
As a result, the general warranty deed already signed by the son, as attorney–in–fact for his mother, would only convey the 50% interest of the mother. The remaining 50% interest of the deceased husband and father would need to be conveyed by a personal representative's deed.
Joni closed this transaction in escrow pending receipt of the letters of appointment and a personal representative's deed.
MORAL OF THE STORY
The son was related to the mother but was the step–son of the decedent. The decedent died with a will leaving the sale proceeds of this house to his own son and daughter.
Had Joni closed and paid 100% of the proceeds to the wife, the son and daughter likely would have made a claim of ownership of 50% of the property. The title insurer would have to defend the ownership rights of the insured by buying out their interest, thereby causing a loss to the company.
The escrow eventually closed and the necessary title documents were recorded. Joni's instincts and persistent questioning, along with her decision to get further guidance from her state counsel, prevented 100% of the seller's proceeds being disbursed to a felon or her son, and prevented a title claim had the decedent's son and daughter asserted their continued 50% ownership of the property, which could cloud our insured buyers' title.
Without her persistence our Company might have experienced a preventable claim. For her tenacity and expertise, Joni has received a letter of recognition along with a $1,000 reward.