Law School Case Brief
Miller v. Riegler - 243 Ark. 251, 419 S.W.2d 599 (1967)
The majority of the state courts have held that the common-law concept of the four unity essentials should give way to the intention of the parties and that a joint tenancy may be created by a conveyance from one to himself and another as joint tenants.
Plaintiff Marjorie Miller and defendant Mary Jane Riegler are sisters, and reside in Little Rock. The sisters' aunt, Minnie Wagar, had lived in California, but when she was taken ill, defendant Mrs. Riegler and her mother brought Mrs. Wagar back to Arkansas. lived withMrs. Wagar lived with Mrs. Riegler, paying $100 per month for room and board for a short time until she went to a nursing home, where she died in 1963. A joint checking account was opened with Mrs. Wagar's funds in the names of Mrs. Wagar and Mrs. Riegler, and a joint safe deposit box was taken in their names, into which Mrs. Wagar's property was placed. On July 23, 1957, Mrs. Wagar, then 81 years of age, executed her last will and testament, and on July 25, she caused several hundred shares of stocks of the approximate value of $45,000.00 to be transferred to the joint names of Mrs. Riegler and herself. The new stock certificates reflected the owners of the stock to be "Mrs. Minnie W. Wagar and Mrs. Mary Jane Riegler, as joint tenants with right of survivorship and not as tenants in common." It was agreed that the aunt would receive the dividends for the balance of her life. Subsequently, the dividends from these stocks were placed in the joint checking account, and these dividends were reported on the Federal Income Tax returns of Mrs. Wagar. Mrs. Riegler, the executrix of the estate, recognized that the money in the joint checking account was a part of the estate, but she claimed absolute ownership of the stock as the survivor of the joint tenancy. Thereupon, Mrs. Miller instituted suit, asserting that the stocks that were still held in the joint names at date of Mrs. Wagar's death actually belonged solely to the deceased (and accordingly were a part of her estate), and should be administered as such. Mrs. Miller asked for judgment for one-half of the stocks and one-half of the value of any that had been converted. Mrs. Riegler answered, denying that the transfer of the stock was for the convenience of Mrs. Wagar, asserted that it was a gift to Mrs. Riegler, and that Mrs. Miller accordingly had no interest. The Pulaski Chancery Court (1st Division) found that the stock was held by Mrs. Riegler and the decedent as joint tenants with the right of survivorship and that at the time suit was instituted it was the sole property in fee simple absolute of Mrs. Riegler. Mrs. Miller sought further appellate review.
Did Mrs. Riegler acquire rights to the stock as a joint tenant with right of survivorship?
The court affirmed. The four "unities" rule requiring a finding of unity of interest, title, time, and possession for joint tenancy no longer applied; the intention of decedent to create a joint tenancy was clear. Further, decedent's collection of dividends during decedent's lifetime did not affect the joint tenancy. the joint tenancy was not affected, even though Mrs. Riegler was not to share in the dividends. The appellate court further held that, in the creation of the joint tenancy, Mrs. Riegler did not first become possessed of her interest or rights in the property when Mrs. Wagar died; rather, she acquired a present interest when the estate was created, i. e., her rights as a joint tenant had already vested before her aunt's death. This fact, of course, silences the argument that a joint tenancy with retention of income is nothing but a void testamentary arrangement.
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