Hannaford v. Mann
The legislature's failure to state expressly that a grantor or grantee may not act as an attesting witness in C.G.S. §47-5 did not indicate an intent to condone such a practice as such a reading would thwart the intended purpose of the witness requirement. David Mann befriended Ruth Goryn while performing landscaping duties for her. Goryn executed a quitclaim deed purporting to convey her home to Mann and signed a document giving Mann power of attorney and appointing him as her health care agent. Both the deed and power of attorney were acknowledged before a notary public and were attested to by two witnesses one of whom was Mann. Weeks later, Goryn died. The Probate Court appointed Michael Hannaford, Goryn's nephew, administrator of Goryn's estate. He commenced this action against Mann alleging, relevantly, that the quitclaim deed and power of attorney were invalid because the defendant acted as a witness to both. The trial court granted summary judgment to Mann. Goryn appealed. The Appellate Court reversed the judgment and remanded the matter with direction. The quitclaim deed and power of attorney were rendered invalid as a matter of law because the defendant acted as one of the attesting witnesses. The lack of language in C.G.S. §47-5 indicating who can act as a witness to a deed did not mean that anyone legally may act as a witness. The trial court relied on an implication in the 1986 Connecticut Appellate Court case of Giannopoulos v. Corbin that the legislature's enactment of C.G.S. §52-145(a) overruled the 1857 case of Winsted Savings Bank Building Association v. Spencer. In Winsted the Connecticut Supreme Court held that witnesses to a deed must be disinterested at the time of attestation. This did not address the plaintiff's argument that the defendant was disqualified not simply because he was an interested party, but, rather, because as grantee he was an actual party to the transaction. Although no cases on record distinguished an interested witness from a deed beneficiary, it did not mean that such a distinction is unwarranted. Reading C.G.S. §47-5 as allowing a grantor or grantee to act as an attesting witness would thwart the intended purpose of the witness requirement. Similarly, if the parties to the power of attorney were permitted to act as attesting witnesses, any protection from fraud gained by requiring witnesses effectively would be evaded.