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White v. Tennant

    Brief Fact Summary
    Michael White moved his home from West Virginia to Pennsylvania, but the same day crossed back to take care of his wife who was sick with typhoid.  He then caught the disease and died in West Virginia.  The question arose concerning which state would be considered his domicile for purposes of intestate succession.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law
    The succession and distribution of a decedent’s personal estate is controlled by the law of the state where the decedent was domiciled at the time of death.

    Facts
    Michael White was legally domiciled in West Virginia where he had lived his entire life and owned a farm.  Michael had made an agreement with his mother, brothers and sisters to sell his farm and occupy a house on 40 acres of land in Pennsylvania, just across the West Virginia state line.  The land was part of a larger family farm located on both sides of the state line with a mansion-house found on the West Virginia side.  Michael and his wife brought their possessions and livestock to their new home.  However, the house was cold and damp and Michael’s wife was not feeling well, so he accepted an invitation to spend the night in the West Virginia mansion-house.  They unloaded their possessions first and then left.  It turned out that Michael’s wife had typhoid fever.  He took care of her at the mansion-house, and also went into Pennsylvania daily to care for his stock.  Two weeks later, Michael caught typhoid and died in West Virginia.  His wife recovered and her father, Tennant (Defendant), was appointed administrator of Michael’s estate.  Under the law of West Virginia, Michael’s wife would receive all her husband’s personal property by intestate succession.  Under Pennsylvania law, she would receive only half, and his immediate family would get the other half.  White (Plaintiff), the brothers and sisters of Michael, sought to set aside the West Virginia distribution of his estate, claiming he was domiciled in Pennsylvania.

    Issue
    Will the succession and distribution of a decedent’s personal estate be controlled by the law of the state where the decedent was domiciled at the time of death?

    Held
    (Snyder, J.)  Yes.  The succession and distribution of a decedent’s personal estate is controlled by the law of the state where the decedent was domiciled at the time of death.  A domicile is a residence, actual or developing, with the lack of any intent to make a domicile elsewhere.  These two elements must exist together.  One domicile cannot be lost until another is acquired.  The facts reveal that Michael left his West Virginia residence with no plans to return and with the intent and purpose of making his permanent home in Pennsylvania.  Therefore, at the moment he and his wife arrived at their new home, their domicile became Pennsylvania.  His leaving there, under the circumstances, with the intention of returning there did not change that fact.  He did not revive his domicile in West Virginia as he had already sold his residence and left it with no intent to return.  Accordingly, the decree must be reversed and remanded.

    Discussion
    The function of domicile is to enable the legal interests of a person to be determined by a single law “particularly in matters where continuity of application of the same law is important . . .â€Â  Under the Second Restatement of Conflicts, it is suggested that domicile will not attach until a person has been there for “a time,†which is some time more than “a moment’s presence.â€Â  Note that if a wife goes ahead of her husband to their new, intended domicile, her arrival there before his may be satisfactory to establish the husband’s new domicile.


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