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Larry Hagman estate wins probate dispute over adverse possession

Like many landowners large and small, Larry Hagman, TV's "J.R. Ewing," decided to build a fence on his 30-acre estate in Ojai, California. And, as commonly happens, he misunderstood the legal boundaries and accidentally fenced in and improved a small portion of his neighbor's land. As it happened, his neighbor was a religious nonprofit founded to continue the work of Indian mystic Meher Baba who taught that he had come into the world to "sow the seed of love in your hearts."

In 2011, the issue embroiled the neighbors in a lawsuit, which hadn't been concluded when the actor died in Nov. 2012 at the age of 81. It then continued as a probate dispute between Hagman's estate and the Meher Baba nonprofit.

Hagman had filed the 2011 quiet title action in order to legally settle their respective rights to the 0.44-acre section of land. Hagman claimed he had held the fenced-in land for so long and in such a way that it should now be considered legally his own under California's adverse possession law.

The nonprofit argued that Hagman hadn't paid the taxes and required mosquito control for the tiny parcel and therefore couldn't be considered its adverse owner. Moreover, the nonprofit claimed it was a "public entity" and therefore immune to adverse possession claims.

A Ventura County judge ruled for Hagman's estate and the Appellate District court in Los Angeles just affirmed that decision. With the probate dispute settled, Hagman's heirs and beneficiaries can now enjoy the lawsuit-provoking .44 acres -- or at least the end of the litigation.

Source: Courthouse News Service, "Nonprofit Loses Bit of Land to Larry Hagman," Jeff D. Gorman, April 5, 2013

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