Coachella Valley Partition Lawyers

California’s Coachella Valley is located in the Colorado Desert in Riverside County, and bordered by the San Jacinto mountains to the West, the Colorado River to the East, the Little San Bernardino Mountains to the North, and the Santa Rosa Mountains to the South. The Coachella Valley is best known for the Coachella Music and Arts Festival, the Stagecoach Music Festival, Palm Springs Modernism Week, the Desert Classic golf tournament, and the Indian Wells Masters Tennis Tournament. The cities of Palm Springs, Cathedral City, Indian Wells, Indio, La Quinta, Palm Desert, and Rancho Mirage are all located in the Coachella Valley. As a popular tourist destination, and retirement area, parties frequently end up owning real estate together. When a co-ownership relationship breaks down, a partition action may be the best solution. Generally, the best Coachella Valley Partition Lawyers usually find partition action to be the best remedy for disputing co-owners in four broad categories:

  • Family owned real estate where only one party wants to sell;
  • Former romantic partners who jointly own real estate where only one party wants to sell;
  • Jointly owned real estate where only one party wants to sell;
  • Partnership real estate where only one party wants to sell;
What Is a Partition Action in California?

A partition lawsuit requires real estate to be sold regardless of the requests of the other title owners. The purpose of a partition action is to permanently end all disputes and remove all obstacles to the free enjoyment of land by one person. (McGillivray v. Evans (1864) 27 Cal.92.) These types of actions can be brought for all types of real estate from houses to farms to office buildings to apartment buildings. Similarly, partition actions are available all types of ownership situations from joint tenants to tenants-in-common to partnership property to property jointly owned by former spouses.

Basically, any person who is an owner of real estate can bring a partition action in California. Code of Civil Procedure section 872.710, subdivision (a), states "A partition action may be commenced and maintained by any…owner of…such property." California Civil Code section 872.210 provides a property owner with the "absolute right to partition" absent a valid waiver. Thus, a partition action can be brought by anyone who no longer wants to own jointly owned real estate, other than spousal property.

Generally, a partition action cannot be stopped absent a valid waiver. The instances in which a court has found a valid waiver have generally involved some sort of written contract or adverse possession of property. As such, many parties try to stop a partition action through mediation, or a buy-out agreement. In most instances, the parties to a partition action can benefit from creative lawyering by those who are familiar with the different options for resolving real estate disputes. The best Coachella Valley Partition Lawyer will be able to share information on this process with you.

What Are the Steps in a Partition Action?

Generally, the first step in the partition lawsuit process is not a lawsuit, but an earnest attempt to resolve the matter informally, such as through a partition agreement. Only when it is clear that litigation is the only option, is it clear that a partition lawsuit is appropriate.

When it is clear that a partition lawsuit is necessary, then the process begins with the filing of a complaint in the county where the property is located. There are several technical requirements for the partition complaint, and many important steps that must be taken during the lawsuit to ensure that the process is managed effectively.

In a partition lawsuit, there are generally four different steps. First, the court determines each party's ownership interests. Second, the court will decide on the manner of sale. Third, the court will order the property be sold. Fourth, the proceeds from the sale will be divided between the parties based on their relative contributions to the property.

While some may believe that inherited property cannot be partitioned, this is incorrect. Instead, when the property is owned as the result of an inheritance, there may be an additional step for an appraisal, and a right of first refusal, as provided by the Uniform Partition of Heirs Act. Under this act, where a co-tenant requests partition by sale, the law gives the non-partition owner the option to buy all of the interests of the co-tenants who requested the sale. A top Coachella Valley Partition lawyer will be familiar with the process.

Can You Mediate a Partition Action?

Generally, anyone considering filing a lawsuit should consider all of their alternatives, including an informal resolution of the problem. This can take the form of a discussion with the other owner or owners about agreeing to sell the property, negotiating with the co-owner to create a formula to divide the proceeds from the sale, or retaining a lawyer to engage in a mediation with the other owners.

Throughout the partition process, and even on the day of trial, any of the owners can make an agreement about the sale of the property. This can happen through a phone call, through negotiations between the parties' lawyers, or through a mediation session with a retired judge or trained mediator. There are many benefits from a mediation session, including confidentiality provisions contained in the law in Evidence Code sections 1115 through 1129.

Specifically, Evidence Code section 1119, subdivision (a), provides "no evidence of anything said or any admission made for the purpose of, in the course of, or pursuant to, a mediation or a mediation consultation is admissible or subject to discovery, and disclosure of the evidence shall not be compelled in any arbitration, administrative adjudication, civil action, or other noncriminal proceeding in which, pursuant to law, testimony can be compelled to be given." A knowledgeable Coachella Valley Partition Attorney will be able to give you good advice on these issues.

What Are Claims for “Contribution”?

Code of Civil Procedure section 874.140 states that the “court may, in all cases, order allowance, accounting, contribution, or other compensatory adjustments among the parties according to the principles of equity.” 

The court in Hunter v. Schultz (1966) 240 Cal.App.2d 24 stated that the payments for interest, taxes, and insurance made by any co-tenant could be subject to reimbursement. These claims for reimbursement are commonly known as “offsets” in a partition action. 

Further, the court under Milian v. De Leon (1986) 181 Cal.App.3d 1185, announced that a co-tenant who expends money for the preservation of the property, or with the [acceptance] of their co-tenant(s), is entitled to reimbursement for those expenditures before the division of the proceeds among the property owners. 

That is, the general rule is that compensatory adjustments are appropriate for improvements that enhance the value of the property for all owners’ benefit. (see Wallace v. Daley (1990) 220 Cal.App.3d 1028, 1035-1036.) An experienced Coachella Valley Partition Attorney will be intimately familiar with these matters.

A Partition Case Study: Estate of Maddox (2010)

How may a court’s interpretation of a deceased testator’s or testatrix’s will affect the outcome of a partition action? The answer largely depends on the particular facts of the case in question. The following paragraphs discuss how such circumstances affected the court’s judgment in Estate of Maddox (2010) 2010 WL 3960866.

Eola Maddox (the “testatrix”) passed away in 1995, leaving behind a will. The will named her daughter Esther as the person to carry out the terms of the will (the “executrix”). The will also left Maddox’s property to her five children—Lloyd, Woodrow, Esther, Joe, and Odell—and her grandson, Chester. Unfortunately, Lloyd and Woodrow died before Eola without having children, and Chester died in 1998 shortly after Eola passed away. By his own will, Lloyd left his own estate to Clarene Williams, the party seeking partition and sale of the property in the present case.

Under the terms of her will, Eola’s five children were to receive an equal share of three parcels of real property. Among other things, Eola’s will provided, “Should any heir sell his or her interest in any of the properties, the remaining heirs shall have first right of refusal to purchase the selling heir's share and should the heirs refuse to purchase, said refusal shall be given in writing and signed by all refusing heirs.”

Esther delayed filing a petition to probate of her mother's will. On October 31, 2005, to complete the transfer of Lloyd's interest to her, Williams filed a petition to admit Eola’s will to probate. On December 14, 2005, Esther filed a subsequent petition for probate of the will. Esther proposed that Eola’s property be physically divided into pieces and distributed among Eola’s heirs.

In 2007, Williams filed a petition for partition and sale of the real property inventoried in Lloyd’s estate. (Prob. Code, §§ 11951, 11953, subd. (b).) Williams contended that Esther’s proposal to fractionally distribute Eola’s property in kind to Lloyd’s estate, Esther, Joe, and Odell as tenants in common was impractical. Williams’s petition sought an order to sell the property pursuant to Probate Code section 11953, subdivision (b), or an order that the devisees of Eola’s will buy out Lloyd’s interest in the property to enable Williams to receive the distributive share belonging to Lloyd’s estate.

Esther objected to the petition for partition and sale, arguing that she intended to have the properties remain in the family subject to the right of first refusal as set forth in Eola’s will. Esther argued that Williams was required to take “whatever interest she takes subject to the express terms of the will.” The hearing on the petition was continued, and the court directed Williams to make an offer to sell to the other devisees of Eola’s will.

On January 30, 2008, Williams sent letters to each of the devisees of Eola’s will offering to sell the 25 percent interest that belonged to Lloyd’s estate. None of the devisees responded. On February 25, 2008, Esther filed a petition to determine whether the motion to compel the sale of estate assets filed by Williams violated the no contest clause (providing Eola’s heirs with the right of first refusal) in the Eola’s will.

In her declaration in support of the petition, Esther asserted that Eola had told her the “right of first refusal” clause included in the will was intended to mean that each of her adult children had the right to purchase the interest of the other in the event one wanted to sell. However, she asserted that the right of first refusal had never been exercised because Williams had not presented to Eola’s children a bona fide offer of a third-party purchaser. Joe and Odell joined Esther in filing objections to Williams's petition for the partition and sale of the property. On September 15, 2008, however, the trial court granted Williams's petition and ordered the sale of the estate property.

On appeal to the California Fourth District Court of Appeal, Joe and Odell challenged the trial court's order granting Williams's petition for partition and sale of the estate property. Based on Esther’s interpretation of Eola’s will, they contended that Williams was not entitled to a partition and sale. The Court rejected Joe’s and Odell’s argument.

The Court held that Joe’s and Odell’s right of first refusal was honored when Williams first wrote to them offering them an opportunity to buy out her share. When they refused, she was entitled to seek a partition. Citing the Probate Code, the Court stated:

“If two or more beneficiaries are entitled to the distribution of undivided interests in property and have not agreed among themselves to a partition, allotment, or other division of the property, any of them, or the personal representative at the request of any of them, may petition the court to make a partition, allotment, or other division of the property that will be equitable and will avoid the distribution of undivided interests.” (Prob. Code, § 11950, subd. (a).)

Additionally, the court reasoned that Probate Code section 11953, subdivision (b), provides in part, “The court may direct the personal representative to sell property where, under the circumstances, sale would be more equitable than partition [in kind] and where the property cannot conveniently be allotted to any one party.” Moreover, probate courts are vested with the authority to make partition of real property—where the title of the deceased owner and the heirship of the parties are undisputed—so as to invest each heir with a separate title to the particular part or parts allotted to him by the decree of partition. (Robinson v. Fair (1888) 128 U.S. 53, 77 [9 S.Ct. 30, 32 L.Ed. 415].)

Since the order for the sale of the estate property rested on an interpretation of the will, the Court proceeded to interpret the terms of Eola’s will. Under well-settled law, the intention of the transferor as expressed in the [will] instrument controls the legal effect of the dispositions made in the instrument. (Prob. Code, § 21102, subd. (a).) The Court found that neither the terms of Eola’s will nor any of the legal authorities cited by Joe and Odell supported Esther’s interpretation of the will. The Court also held that Williams’s construal of the will’s terms was the much more reasonable interpretation of the will's language. Williams had complied with the terms of Eola’s will by offering to sell Lloyd’s interest in the property to the other family members.

The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s order for the partition and sale of the property, and Williams was awarded costs on appeal.

How the Underwood Law Firm Can Help

As we’ve seen, in partition actions, a court’s interpretation of a deceased testator’s or testatrix’s will can certainly affect the outcome of a partition action.

Our knowledgeable attorneys are available to help you navigate the complex web of case law and statutes surrounding partitions. As there are many different ways to waive the right of partition, you may benefit from good legal advice on the topic. If you find yourself contemplating a partition, or if you are faced with defending against a partition lawsuit, then please contact Underwood Law Firm, P.C. for an initial consultation.

Learn more here.

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