N.C. Supreme Court: Willis v. Willis- Mistake of One Party Insufficient to Reform Deed


Janice Willis had two sons, Eddie and Anthony. In December 2004 she drafted a will bequeathing “any interest that I may own in my home place” to Eddie, expressing her “wish” that, if she conveyed the property to Eddie before her death and he decided to sell it, Eddie would divide the proceeds with his brother Anthony. The will also bequeathed the residue of her estate to Eddie and Anthony in equal shares, to pass to their children per stirpes if either or both predeceased her. Mrs. Willis did transfer the property to Eddie, subject to a life estate, but Eddie died a few years later, while Mrs. Willis was still alive. When it became clear that Eddie’s children had, contrary to her intention, inherited his remainder interest, Mrs. Willis filed suit seeking reformation of the deed on the basis of her unilateral mistake, arguing that “[t]he grantor of a conveyance for which no consideration was given by the grantee is entitled to reformation when the deed fails to express the actual intent of the parties due to the grantor’s unilateral mistake.” Nelson v. Harris, 32 N.C. App. 375, 232 S.E.2d 298, disc. rev. denied, 292 N.C. 641, 235 S.E.2d 62 (1977).

The North Carolina Supreme Court, however, held that this quotation from Nelson was merely dicta and had no basis in prior or subsequent North Carolina law. Instead, the Supreme Court relied on Crawford v. Willoughby, 192 N.C. 269, 134 S.E. 494 (1926), which allowed reformation under three circumstances:
(1) mutual mistake of the parties;
(2) mistake of one party induced by fraud of the other; and
(3) mistake of the draftsman
The “mistake of one party to the deed, or instrument, alone, not induced by the fraud of the other, affords no ground for relief by reformation.”

For a copy of the opinion, please see:

Willis v. Willis- Mistake of One Party Insufficient to Reform Deed.pdf


1. Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature from Washington University, 1993. 2. Juris Doctor degree from George Washington University, 1996. Admissions to Practice of Law: North Carolina Bar, 1996. Federal District Courts for the Eastern and Middle Districts of North Carolina. Specialty Certification: North Carolina State Bar: Certified as a Specialist in Consumer Bankruptcy. Areas of Practice: Practice limited to consumer and business debtor bankruptcy law, 1998 to present. Memberships: National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA). North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers (NCATL). North Carolina Bar Association, Bankruptcy Section. Lectures prepared and presented: North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers seminar on bankruptcy; Topic: Counseling the Consumer Debtor Prior to Court - C.Y.A. Forms to Help 'Gird They Loins'; 2001. Middle District Bankruptcy Seminar; Topic: Preparing Chapter 13 Plans; 2002. NACBA National Convention; Topic: Efficient Office Practices; 2003. NACBA National Convention; Topic: Chapter 7 vs. Chapter 13 Debates; 2004. Middle District Bankruptcy Seminar; Topic: Chapter 7 & 13 Hot Issues; 2004. Positions held: NACBA National Convention; Convention Chair; 2008. NACBA National Convention; Panel Moderator: Topic: Basic Bankruptcy Issues; 2008. NACBA National Convention; Panel Moderator; Topic: Chapter 13-Disposable Income and Other Issues; 2007. NACBA National Convention; Panel Moderator; Topic: Representing Members of the Military and Their Families; 2007. NACBA, Member of National Board of Directors, 2006 to present. NCATL, Chair of the Bankruptcy Section, 2003 to 2007. NACBA, Chair of the North Carolina Section, 2003 to 2007. NC Bar Association, Bankruptcy Section, Bankruptcy Council Member, 2004 to present.

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