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Baker v. Weedon - 262 So. 2d 641 (Miss. 1972)

Rule:

Deterioration and waste of the property is not the exclusive and ultimate test to be used in determining whether a sale of land affected by future interest is proper; consideration also should be given to the question of whether a sale is necessary for the best interest of all the parties, that is, the life tenant and the contingent remaindermen.

Facts:

Subsequent to the two marriages entered into by John Harrison Weedon, both of which produced children, he bought Oakland Farm in 1905 and engaged himself in its operation. In 1915, John, who was then 55 years of age, married Anna Plaxico, 17 years of age. This marriage, though resulting in no children, was a compatible relationship. John and Anna worked side by side in farming this 152.95-acre tract of land in Alcorn County. While the relationship of John and Anna was close and amiable, that between John and his daughters of his first marriage was distant and strained. In 1925, John executed his last will and testament. This will stipulated that all John’s real, personal and mixed properties were to be bequeathed to his wife and none to his children from his first marriage, namely Florence Baker and Delett Weedon Jones. The will also provided that in the event Anna died without issue, then all of John’s property will be bequeathed to his grandchildren. Subsequent to John Weedon's death in 1932 and the probate of his will, Anna continued to live on Oakland Farm. In 1933, Anna, who had been urged by John to remarry in the event of his death, wed J. E. Myers. This union some 20 years and produced no offspring that might terminate the contingent remainder vested in Weedon's grandchildren by the will. In 1964 the growth of the city of Corinth was approaching Oakland Farm. A right-of-way through the property was sought by the Mississippi State Highway Department for the construction of U.S. Highway 45 bypass. The highway department located Florence Baker's three children, the contingent remaindermen by the will of John Weedon, to negotiate with them for the purchase of the right-of-way. Dorothy Jean Jones, the adopted daughter of Delette Weedon Jones, was not located and due to the long passage of years, was presumably dead. A decree pro confesso was entered against her. Until the notice afforded by the highway department, the grandchildren were unaware of their possible inheritance. A contract was executed in 1970 for the sale of soil from the property for $2500. Anna received $1000 of this sum, which went toward completion of payments for the home. Thereafter, Anna brought a suit due to her economic distress. She prayed that the property, less the house site, be sold by a commissioner and that the proceeds be invested to provide her with an adequate income resulting from interest on the trust investment. She also prayed that the sale and investment management be under the direction of the chancery court. The chancellor granted the relief prayed by Anna under the theory of economic waste. According to the chancellor, the change of the economy in the area, the change in farming conditions, the equipment required for farming, and Anna’s age left the real estate where it was to all intents and purposes unproductive when viewed in light of its capacity. The chancellor further held that a continuing use under the present conditions would result in economic waste.

Issue:

Was the order directing the sale of the land pursuant to the theory of economic waste proper?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court of Mississippi opined that deterioration and waste of the property was not the exclusive and ultimate test to be used in determining whether a sale of land affected by future interest was proper, but that consideration should also be given to the question of whether a sale was necessary for the best interest of all the parties, that is, Anna and the remaindermen. The Court concluded that the best interest of all the parties would not be served by a judicial sale of the entirety of the property at that time; although such a sale would have provided immediate relief to Anna, it would nevertheless under the circumstances have caused great financial loss to the contingent remaindermen. The Court directed that sale of a part of the burdened land was to be made only if the parties could not unite to hypothecate the land for sufficient funds for Anna’s reasonable needs.

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