In Pennsylvania, 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 1812 Pa. Laws 259, with the result that now such a conveyance or devise carries with it no right of survivorship unless clearly expressed, and in effect it creates, not a joint tenancy, but a tenancy in common.
A deed between the mother, her husband, and one of their son and his wife provided that each couple owned a parcel as tenants by the entireties with right of survivorship. The mother's husband died, and upon her own death, her will directed that any interest she held in the land was to be given to her other son (co-brother) so both sons would own equal share of the property. The will was taken to court and at trial, the trial court concluded that the co-brother was not entitled to any interest in a piece of land because a deed created a joint tenancy with right of survivorship between the mother and her husband and the son. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.
Did the document create a joint tenancy?
The Court held that the deed created a tenancy in common between the couples, with each holding as tenants by the entireties. Pursuant to 1812 Pa. Laws 259, 20 P.S. § 121, the presumption of survivorship in joint tenancies was eliminated, and under that statute an instrument had to clearly intend such result before the court could so hold. The language of the deed was susceptible of three possible interpretations and that caused the court to find that such ambiguity precluded a finding of a clear expression of intent to overcome the statutory presumption against joint tenancies with rights of survivorship. In addition, the deed never used the term joint tenants, nor the typical phraseology used to create that estate in land.