Maybe. People can agree to just about anything, as long as the agreement has certain essential components, such as consideration; a writing, if it is required; and the matters agreed to cannot be illegal.
So, if there is a written agreement of ownership that is inconsistent with how title is held on the deed, that agreement may be enforced by the Court even if the deed does not reflect the true terms of the agreement.
Likewise, if the agreement is verbal or even implied based upon conduct, it too may be enforceable. There are, however, far more hurdles to overcome in that situation. The first obstacle would be the requirement under the statute of frauds that an agreement relating to or conveying real property and an agreement that takes more than a year to perform is required to be in writing. Often the statute of frauds defense, however, can be overcome by partial performance or the parties’ conduct.
The next obstacle would be the burden of proof. The holder of record title to property (that is, the title on the deed) is presumed to be the owner of both legal and full beneficial title to the property. This presumption made be rebutted only by clear and convincing proof. The clear and convincing evidence standard requires that the evidence be “so clear as to leave no substantial doubt in the mind of the trier of fact; it must be sufficiently strong to command the unhesitating assent of every reasonable mind.”
This type of lawsuit is referred to as a Marvin Action. Although these are not easy cases to win, with the right type of evidence, a Plaintiff asserting a Marvin Action can prevail. Further, these cases often settle without the necessity of having to go to trial and fully prove your case. I have represented clients in East Bay California and other parts of the Bay Area California in Marvin Actions. If you believe that you have a right to property under these types of principles or agreements, or have had a Marvin Action asserted against you, please feel free to contact me at (510) 465-0025 to arrange for a consultation to determine whether or not the evidence might support a Marvin Action.