Vinson v. Johnson, __ So.2d __, 2006 WL 1650609 (Fla. 1st DCA June 16, 2006)
Suppose a client with 9! children asks you what’s the best way to provide for the orderly disposition of his 34-acre farm. He wants to ensure that the farm either stays in the family intact, or is sold as a single property, not piecemeal. A simple way to effectuate this type of plan is to put the property in a trust, partnership or LLC and include purchase-and-sale provisions that achieve the desired outcome. The wrong answer is to say: “heck, that’s simple, just say in your will that all of the kids have to agree to a sale.”
That’s what the Vinson clan learned in this case. The portion of Vinson Sr.’s will at issue in the case was described as follows by the First DCA:
Hardy Vinson, Sr., executed a will leaving his 34-acre farm and home in Alachua County to his nine living children as tenants in common. The will provided in pertinent part:
The “Vinson Estate” shall not be subject to partition or forced sale by any heir, but shall only be sold upon agreement of all heirs. Taxes and ownership expenses shall be shared equally among the children. Any heir that pays more than his or her share shall be entitled to contribution from the nonpaying heirs upon sale of the property.
When 5 of Vinson Sr.’s 9 children sued for partition of the farm, the trial court ruled in their favor. On appeal the First DCA held that the clause in the will prohibiting partition or sale was an “unlawful restraint on alienation of real property” and upheld the trial court’s ruling. The First DCA explained its rationale as follows:
When real property is conveyed in fee simple, the grantee or devisee acquires a right to sell or dispose of the property as an incident to the right of ownership. The right of alienation is said to be an inherent and inseparable quality of the estate. See1. 61 Am.Jur.2d Perpetuities, Etc. § 102 (2002); 3 Thompson Real Property § 29.03(b), at 707 (2001). An absolute restraint on alienation is inconsistent with the right of ownership and is therefore invalid. See generally Iglehart v. Phillips, 383 So.2d 610 (Fla.1980) (surveying the case law pertaining to restraints on alienation).
The rule against restraints on alienation applies to restrictions on partition of real property, as well as restrictions on sale. The right to seek partition of property owned jointly in a tenancy in common is an incident to the right of individual ownership. See Richard R. Powell, The Law of Real Property, § 77 ¶ 846 (1991). While there appears to be no precedent in Florida for the precise issue presented in this case, other states have held that prohibitions against partition or forced sale of property devised in a will are unlawful restraints on alienation.