Officials for the Housing Authority of the City of Rahway (“RHA”) were greeted with unexpected news when they learned that they did not own a portion of property they planned to redevelop. The property in question is commonly known as 538 A & B Capobianco Plaza in Rahway, lot 16 in block 763 and RHA officials understood that they owned all of Block 763 in Rahway (including lot 16) by way of an April 27, 1951 deed from Philip and Muriel Weinstein. A title search issued by Vintage Title Services, however, revealed that the deed did not include lot 16. This presented a title issue, and as a result the project could not be completed until the defect was corrected. RHA retained the services of Joseph Grabas of the Grabas Institute to trace title to the property. Mr. Grabas is considered by most (including McNally & Bellino, LLC) to be one of the best, if not the best, title and genealogical expert in the State of New Jersey. Mr. Grabas was able to trace last ownership of lot 16 to a Charles F. Naughton, who acquired the property from a J. Herbert Potts by way of an October 11, 1878 deed; but there was no subsequent conveyance of the property. Mr. Grabas continued his investigation and determined that Mr. Naughton never married and had a single blood descendant, his niece Grace, when he died in 1923. The available evidence suggested that Mr. Naughton lived with his niece Grace in Brooklyn, Kings County, New York when he passed away, There was no record of an estate being probated for Mr. Naughton in Kings County, so it was unknown whether he passed away leaving a will. If Mr. Naughton or any of his descendants left a will leaving some or all of his estate to a non-blood descendant, that person’s interest would then need to be traced, further complicating the process. RHA retained McNally & Bellino to prosecute a quiet title action to clear title. In order to do so, much work was needed to determine all of Mr. Naughton’s descendants and then ascertain if any of them had left a will – a tall task to say the least.
McNally & Bellino, armed with Mr. Grabas’ research, utilized the genealogical tool Ancestry.com to trace Mr. Naughton’s descendants. For each of the identified descendants who was discovered to be deceased, inquiry was made of the Surrogate Courts in the County in which the person died as well as in the County where the property in question is located, to see if a will had been probated. The identified living descendants were joined as defendants in the quiet title complaint and the complaints were served with a questionnaire inquiring as to the existence of other prospective persons with interest in the property. A total of sixteen of Charles’ living descendants were identified and served. In four or five instances, descendants called or responded to the questionnaires and advised that they were not aware of anyone else who may have an interest in the property. In an abundance of caution, McNally & Bellino also published against unknown heirs but only after providing the Court a detailed Certification setting forth the due diligence undertaken to locate all interested parties. After a lengthy process McNally & Bellino filed motions for entry of final judgment quieting title. The Court granted the motions and, at long last, title to Lot 16 was cleared, paving the way for much needed redevelopment of the Property, which once completed, will benefit the community at large. If you or someone you know encounters a title problem, the attorneys at McNally & Bellino, LLC would be happy to set up a free consultation to provide assistance.