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Albro v. Allen

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Plaintiff and one of the Defendants owned property as “joint tenants with full rights of survivorship.” Defendant agreed to sell her interest in the property to the other Defendant. Plaintiff sued, seeking injunction against the sale. The trial court granted Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment and permanently enjoined the sale of the property. The occur of appeals held that Defendant could not alienate her interest in the life estate because it would convert the joint life estate into a tenancy in common and thereby deprive Plaintiff of her right of survivorship.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    A person sharing a joint life estate with full rights of survivorship may convey his interest without destroying the remaining joint tenant’s right of survivorship.

    Facts.

    On October 14, 1977, property was conveyed to Carol Allen (Defendant) and Helen Albro (Plaintiff) as “joint tenants with full rights of survivorship.” On April 23, 1987, Allen agreed to sell her interest in the property to Steven Kinzer (Defendant). On May 12, 1987, Plaintiff sued seeking injunction against the sale. The trial court granted summary judgment for Plaintiff and permanently enjoined Allen from selling or conveying her interest in the property. The court of appeals found that Plaintiff and Allen held “a joint life estate followed by a contingent remainder in fee to the survivor.” Accordingly, the court of appeals held that Allen could not alienate her interest in the life estate because it would convert the joint life estate into a tenancy in common and thereby deprive Plaintiff of her right of survivorship.

    Issue.

    Whether a person sharing a joint life estate with full rights of survivorship may convey his interest without destroying the remaining joint tenant’s right of survivorship.

    Held.

    Yes. The court of appeals’ ruling is reversed to the extent that it is inconsistent with this opinion and the case is remanded to the trial court to modify the permanent injunction. A person sharing a joint life estate with full rights of survivorship may convey his interest without destroying the remaining joint tenant’s right of survivorship.

    Discussion.

    Under Michigan law, there are two types of joint tenancies. The ordinary type entitles each joint tenant to a right of survivorship, by which the last surviving joint tenant acquires exclusive ownership of the property. However, this right can be destroyed if any joint tenant alienates his interest in the property. Thus, where a joint tenant conveys his interest to a third party, the joint tenancy is severed and a tenancy in common is formed between the remaining joint tenant and the third party. The second type of joint tenancy is a “joint tenancy with full rights of survivorship.” It is created with language expressly establishing the right of survivorship in addition to language creating the joint tenancy. This type of joint tenancy, when broken down, consists of a joint life estate with dual contingent remainders (the rights of survivorship). Unlike the right of survivorship in an ordinary joint tenancy, the right of survivorship in a “joint tenancy with full rights of survivorship” cannot be destroyed by a cotenant’s attempt to alienate his interest. Thus in Halleck v. Halleck, 216 Or. 23 (1959), an Oregon court held that a cotenant in the same type of joint tenancy was able to convey his interest without destroying the remaining cotenant’s right of survivorship. This reasoning is consistent with this jurisdiction’s statutory laws regarding the conveyance of life estates. At common law, if a life tenant attempted to convey greater than a life estate to a third party, the life estate was forfeited and any contingent remainder was destroyed. A Michigan statute abrogated the common law by announcing that a life tenant who attempts to convey greater than a life estate merely transfers the life estate without destroying any contingent remainders. These principles, that life estates are transferrable and that a contingent remainder cannot be destroyed by the conveyance of a preceding estate, support the conclusion that a person sharing a “joint tenancy with full rights of survivorship” can alienate his interest without destroying the remaining joint tenant’s right of survivorship. The duration of the life estate will continue to be measured by the lives of the original joint tenants, and either the remaining joint tenant or the third party will acquire the entire estate upon the death of one of the original joint tenants.


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