Perley E. Swett was a well-known hermit who lived in Stoddard, NH. He passed away in 1973.
During his life, various people appear to have helped him out, one being a gentleman named Quentin H. White. Beginning in 1968, Mr. White visited Mr. Swett regularly, delivered groceries, handled bank transactions, and took Mr. Swett to visit his sister.
To show his appreciation, Mr. Swett tried to pay Mr. White for his services, even giving him a deed to a large parcel of land, which Mr. White tore up, maintaining it was his neighborly duty to help. Mr. White eventually relented, and accepted a deed in 1972 to land in Harrisville, New Hampshire.
The Harrisville deed contained the following language, the interpretation of which was the subject of a recent New Hampshire Supreme Court decision in the case of Quentin H. White v. Brigitte Auger et al.(January 11, 2019). The deed conveyed the land in question “…on condition that he (Quentin H. White) may desire to and erect some building on said land and live there either part time or year round….The main condition being that this be done within ten years….” If this and other conditions were not met within the ten years, “this land area should be transferred to Brigitte Gaudreau….”
Brigitte Gaudreau is now Brigitte Auger, a defendant in the case, and Mr. White never built anything on the land, nor did he live there.
The Ruling and What Became of the Other Gifts
The legal description is longer and more complicated than what is quoted here, which led Mr. White to claim he was not required to build anything on the land within ten years. The court disagreed, ruling the deed contemplated transferring ownership of the land to Ms. Auger in the event that Mr. White did not live on or build on the land within ten years. But things get worse for Mr. White.
Mr. Swett bequeathed several gifts to Mr. White in his will, including part of Mr. Swett’s “home farm.” Mistakenly believing he owned the Harrisville parcel free and clear of any other claims, Mr. White relinquished all claims to receive other land from Mr. Swett, either through his will or unrecorded deeds to other real estate. Mr. White, therefore, ended up with nothing.
The moral of our story? Doing good is fine, but it’s okay to use your head too.