MAY 29, 2000 VOLUME 7, NUMBER 48
People often try to solve their legal problems without the help of lawyers. Frequently they accomplish exactly what they want. Sometimes they complicate their own lives unnecessarily and expensively, when a little sound legal advice would have resolved the difficulty easily. Take, for example, the situation Montanan Boyd Broell placed himself in with his family.
Mr. Broell and his common-law wife Lori McIntosh bought the family ranch in Wilsall, Montana, from his grandmother’s estate in 1989. Mr. Broell and Ms. McIntosh had already lived (and helped run the ranch) together for a decade, and both contributed to the purchase of the property. Mr. Broell’s father also donated his share of the estate to his son in order to make the purchase possible.
Within a year of buying the ranch, however, Mr. Broell’s life began to unravel. First he separated from Ms. McIntosh. A short time later he was arrested for driving under the influence and possession of dangerous drugs with the intent to sell. Two years after buying the ranch, Mr. Broell was sentenced to two years in the Montana State Prison. At about the same time, Ms. McIntosh filed for divorce.
Ms. McIntosh and Mr. Broell were concerned that the state might seize the ranch because of the criminal charges, or that the divorce court might order the ranch sold, so they decided to execute a phony mortgage to Mr. Broell’s father Irvin.
The divorce was finalized while Mr. Broell was in prison. The couple agreed on the terms of the divorce, and so the court ordered that the ranch be held in joint ownership until they both wanted it sold. Still convinced that the court might order the property sold anyway, Mr. Broell paid his ex-wife to transfer her interest in the property to his father. Then Mr. Broell and Ms. McIntosh deeded the property to Mr. Broell’s father, but again without actually receiving any money for the "sale."
All this, apparently, was intended to confuse the criminal authorities and the divorce court, even though there was no indication that either was in any way interested in the property. Mr. Broell’s father stood ready to deed the property back to him when the "danger" had passed. Or at least that was the plan—Mr. Broell’s father unexpectedly died in 1995. He had not, of course, signed any documents memorializing the agreement, or even a will returning the ranch to Mr. Broell.
Now Mr. Broell really did have legal problems. His mother (although estranged from his father for many years) claimed the ranch as her inheritance. Although the Montana courts returned the property to Mr. Broell, (Broell v. Estate of Broell, May 25, 1990) the financial cost and family disharmony could all have been avoided if Mr. Broell had gotten competent legal advice.