December 3, 2015

Joint Tenancy v. Tenants in Common

When a person changes title to real property, the process is rather easy. A deed is signed, then notarized and recorded with the appropriate county recorder. The substance of changing title though can have an extremely lasting impact. This was evident in the following case:

Perna v. Perna, San Diego County Superior Court Case # 37-2013-00032837-PR-LA-CTL

According to the unpublished appellate opinion:

"Angie [Perna] is [Carlo] Perna's daughter. On March 22, 1999, Carlo presented to a hospital emergency room in respiratory distress and was later admitted to the intensive care unit. (All further date references are to 1999.) On March 29, Carlo changed title to real property located in Chula Vista from tenants in common with his sister, Maria S. Da Luz, to joint tenancy. Carlo signed the quitclaim deed and a notary public notarized the document. On March 30, Carlo underwent a tracheotomy. Carlo later requested that he not be resuscitated and that food and medication be withdrawn. Carlo died intestate on April 5. In 2013, Angie filed a petition for letters of administration challenging the transfer. Carlo's other daughter, Connie E. Castellanos, and his sisters, Concetta R. Perna and Da Luz, objected to the petition."

The reason why Ms. Perna challenged the transfer was due to the disposition of the property. 

If Mr. Perna had left title as is, the property in question would have  been distributed to his daughters, Mrs. Perna and Connie E. Castellanos. The reason being is that a tenant in common interest is passed via intestate succession if the decedent had no will. Here the opinion notes that Ms. Perna filed for Letters of Administration which means that Mr. Perna died without writing a will. Therefore, the heirs (see next of kin) of Mr. Perna's estate would inherit his tenant in common interest through intestate succession. Presumably his heirs were his two daughters, Mrs. Perna and Connie E. Castellanos.

The problem for Ms. Perna is that by changing title to joint tenancy from tenants in common, the owner of Mr. Perna's interest in the property upon his death was Maria S. Da Luz, the other joint tenant, not his estate. The reason being that a joint tenancy interest automatically passes to the surviving joint tenant. Grothe v Cortlandt Corp. (1992) 11 CA4th 1313, 1317. Here Mr. Perna and Ms. Da Luz were each joint tenants. Thus, they each owned 50% of the property. When Mr. Perna passed away, his 50% interest automatically passed to his sister, Ms. Da Luz.

In light of this, Ms. Perna challenged the validity of the transfer. The objective was to have the deed invalidated whereby title to the property would be held as tenants in common (in which she would partially inherit) as opposed to joint tenancy (in which she would inherit nothing). 

Ms. Perna lost her appeal at the appellate level for those of you keeping score at home.