Brief Fact Summary. A grant by deed in 1947 made by Joyce King of property known as “King Farm” was made to two couples as tenants by the entirety. The language of the deed after the two tenancies by the entirety was created included the words “with right of survivorship. The parties’ dispute centered on whether the couple’s respective one-half interests were held as tenants in common or as joint tenants.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. The case law of this jurisdiction dictate that, when construing language in a deed, there must be a sufficiently clear expression of an intent to create a right of survivorship, because the law does not favor joint tenancies.
Whereas before the act, a conveyance or devise to two or more persons (not husband and wife or trustees) was presumed to create a joint tenancy with the right of survivorship unless otherwise clearly stated, the presumption is reversed by the act, with the result that now such a conveyance or devise carries with it no right of survivorship unless clearly expressed, and in the absence of a clearly expressed intent to the contrary, the conveyance or devise creates not a joint tenancy, but a tenancy in common.View Full Point of Law
Issue. What is the proper characterization of the relationship created by the 1947 deed between the two couples?
Held. The land was held as tenants in common as between the two couples. Decree reversed.
Under the Act of 1812, Pennsylvania law presumes that, in the absence of language clearly expressing an intent to create a joint tenancy, the conveyance or devise to two or more persons is a creation of ownership as tenants in common. To resolve the question of whether or not survivorship was to be included (joint tenancy), the Court will look to the four corners of the deed.
The Court found that in this case the words “with right of survivorship” could be subject to at least three interpretations. 1. An explanation of the interest created as one of the incidents of the estate, tenants by the entirety. 2. Explanation of the tenancy by the entirety which the words directly follow. 3. Indicative of the creation of a right of survivorship as between the two couples (which is what the Appellee Ford Michael urges). This is indicative of a lack of clarity sufficient to overcome the Act of 1812’s presumption against creation of a joint tenancy.
The Court notes that the words “joint tenants” never appear in this deed. The normal way to create a joint tenancy is to state “joint tenants, with right of survivorship, and not as tenants in common.” The lack of this language to clearly indicate intent to create a joint tenancy means that the deed cannot be read to have created a joint tenancy.
The term “their heirs and assigns forever” [emphasis added], shows an intent to create a tenancy in common, or an undivided one-half interest in each couple. The one-half interest of Bertha, who survived her husband Harry, was conveyed to Robert Michael.
Discussion. In order to understand these cases, it is absolutely necessary to have a working knowledge of the terms “tenants in common,” “joint tenancy,” and “tenants by the entirety.” The definitions of the these terms and the incidents to each type of ownership are found beginning on page 311.