Rawlings v. Rawlings – One Family’s Experience Fighting Over the Farm

In the recent Utah Supreme Court case of Rawlings v. Rawlings, Justice Himonas wrote: “‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth,’ Genesis 1:1, and families have been fighting over them ever since.”  In the Rawlings case the Utah Supreme Court was dealing with a lawsuit originally filed in 1997.  The case has now spanned three decades and two trips to the Utah Supreme Court.  The case has its own genesis in 1966 when Arnold Rawlings, the father of the combatants was diagnosed with cancer.  At that time, Arnold deeded his farm to his eldest son Donald. Donald’s siblings argued and the court agreed that Arnold had effected the transfer because he could not qualify for welfare assistance.  In 2010, the Utah Supreme Court upheld the District Court’s decision that Donald held the land in a “constructive trust” for the benefit of all of the Rawlings children.  In the 2015 trip to the Utah Supreme Court, Donald continued to assert that he was the rightful owner and the Court again found against him.I am not sure what the cost of health care for Arnold would have been in 1966.  I am also unaware of what the cost of planning may have been.  But, it would be hard to believe that whatever savings he obtained has not been spent many times over in this litigation.  I heard once that for every complex problem there is a simple solution – and it is almost always wrong.  Many try to avoid probate or become eligible for government programs by transferring assets to children or others.  While this strategy is simple, the problems are complex and often the risk in such transfers can be far greater than the benefits obtained.  The answer is to plan for these issues using tried and true estate planning methods with the assistance of professionals skilled in proper planning options.