Court Confirms that Joint Ownership Trumps a Will

In 1988, Robert Ehrhardt, Sr. and his wife, Julia, purchased a home as “joint tenants with full rights of survivorship, and not as tenants in common.”  In 2000, Robert Sr. executed his last will and testament.  A provision of his will stated:

“My interest in the marital home (land and improvements) is hereby given, devised and bequeathed to my wife, Julia Donelson Ehrhardt, in trust and as Trustee for her benefit upon the following terms and conditions:

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Paragraph VI, C: At the death of my wife, the trust shall terminate and then the house or subsequent dwelling which the trust has an interest shall be sold and my fifty (50%) percent of net proceeds from the sale of that house or dwelling shall be delivered to my residuary beneficiaries equally and per stirpes."

Robert Sr. died in 2007.  In 2009, his sons filed a petition to close his estate.  The court entered an order finding that the provision in Article VI of Robert Sr.’s will was not applicable, and that the title to the marital home was vested in Robert Sr. and Julia as joint tenants with rights of survivorship and not as tenants in common.  “Tenants in common” means that each owner owns a separate half interest that does not automatically pass to the surviving owner(s).

Julia executed a new will in 2008 leaving her estate to her heirs, and she died in 2015.  Robert Sr.’s sons filed a claim in Julia’s estate alleging they were entitled to fifty percent of the proceeds of the sale of the marital home under paragraph VI of Robert Sr.’s will.  The chancellor disallowed the claim by the Ehrhardt brothers, finding that all Robert Sr.’s title in the marital home passed to Julia at the time of Robert Sr.’s death by virtue of deed.  The Court of Appeals agreed and stated that one joint owner cannot sever the joint ownership by his last will and testament.

EHRHARDT v. DONELSON, NO. 2016-CA-00277-COA

https://courts.ms.gov/Images/Opinions/CO120054.pdf

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