Or do you think this JTROS decision is accurate and fair?
This Alabama case* was discussed extensively on the DIRT listserv. I’d love to know how South Carolina lawyers react to the decision.
Here’s the recital of the facts from DIRT:
“Michael Upchurch, his brother Davis Upchurch, and his nephew Jason Upchurch owned several pieces of real property as joint tenants with the right of survivorship. They signed a contract to sell the properties to third parties. However, before closing, Michael died. In this declaratory judgment action, Michael’s widow Carol Upchurch, individual and as executor of Michael’s estate, asserted, among other things, a claim to one-third of the proceeds from that sale. David and Jason filed a motion for a summary judgment, which the circuit court granted. The Alabama Supreme Court held that under the circumstances, Michael, David, and Jason’s decision to enter into a contract to sell the properties severed their joint tenancy and that, as a result Michael’s estate was entitled to one-third of the proceeds from the sale of the properties. The Supreme Court therefore reversed the trial court’s judgment and remanded the case for the entry of a judgment in favor of the estate.”
What do you think about this opinion? Would a South Carolina court come to the same result?
I don’t believe our statute answers the question. For your consideration, here are relevant portions of our statute on the subject:
- § 27-7-40. Creation of joint tenancy; filing; severance
- (a)(ii) In the event of the death of a joint tenant survived by more than one joint tenant in the real estate, the entire interest of the deceased joint tenant vests equally in the surviving joint tenants who continues to own the entire interest owned by them as joint tenants with right of survivorship.
- (iv) If all the joint tenants who own real estate held in joint tenancy join in an encumbrance, the interest in the real estate is effectively encumbered to a third party or parties.
- (vi) If real estate is owned by more than two joint tenants, a conveyance by one joint tenant to all the other joint tenants therein conveys his interest therein equally to the other joint tenants who continue to own the real estate as joint tenants with right of survivorship.
- (ix) If real estate is owned by two or more joint tenants, a conveyance by all the joint tenants to themselves as tenants in common severs the joint tenancy and conveys the fee in the real estate to these individuals as tenants in common.
- (c) Except as expressly provided herein, any joint tenancy severed pursuant to the terms of this section is and becomes a tenancy in common without rights of survivorship.
The answer would seem clearer to me if only one joint tenant had entered into a contract. Severance of the joint tenancy would appear to be the correct answer. But under the facts recited here, I have my doubts.
The intention of the parties is always relevant. We don’t have any clear statement to that effect here. If all three had survived the sale, each joint tenant would have been entitled to his portion of the proceeds. But no document among the owners addressed a death prior to the sale. Originally setting up their interests as JTROS suggests their intent that a death of one would result in ownership by the other two. Did signing the contract evidence their intent to no longer own the properties as joint tenants?
One comment from DIRT suggested the court might have decided that the contract rights of the deceased owner survived his death and passed to his estate. But that’s not what the court held. It held that the JTROS was severed by the contract.
Dirt lawyers, what do you think?
*Upchurch v. Upchurch, Supreme Court of Alabama Case SC-2022-0478 (April 7, 2023)