Tennessee Supreme Court Finds That Joint Tenancy With Right of Survivorship is Destroyed by Quitclaim Deed of One Party to Deed

Posted on Apr 30 2017 2:00PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

The Tennessee Supreme Court recently decided an important case on an issue that had not yet been decided in Tennessee. The case of Darryl F. Bryant, Sr. v. Darryl F. Bryant, Jr., No. M2014-02379-SC-R11-CV, 2017 WL 1404388 (Tenn. 2017) decided a key issue pertaining to Joint Tenancy with Right of Survivorship. In this case, the owner (Ms. Bryant) of the property in question issued a deed conveying the property to herself and her son as Joint Tenants with Right of Survivorship. This occurred in 2009. Interestingly, a little bit more than one year later on September 2, 2010, the original owner, Ms. Bryant, executed another Quitclaim Deed on the same property. This Quitclaim Deed purported to convey the property to her grandson, Darryl F. Bryant, Jr.  She deeded all of her interests in the property to this grandson in this deed.


Ms. Bryant died in November of 2013 and then a dispute arose between Ms. Bryant’s son, Darryl F. Bryant, Sr. and grandson, Darryl F. Bryant, Jr. The legal issue that governed this situation is whether Joint Tenancy with the Right of Survivorship can be terminated by one party. In other words, Ms. Bryant deeded the property as a Joint Tenancy with Right of Survivorship to herself and her son. She then later deeded her interest in the property to her grandson (essentially her ½ interest in the Joint Tenancy with Right of Survivorship). The question, therefore, was whether the second deed terminated the Right of Survivorship in the first deed, unilaterally, without permission or input by the co-owner, Darryl Bryant, Sr.  If it did not, then Darryl F. Bryant Sr. would own the property outright due to Ms. Bryan’s death.


The Tennessee Supreme Court analyzed several prior Tennessee opinions as well as other states’ assessment of this issue.  Ultimately, the Tennessee Supreme Court found that “joint tenancy with an express right of survivorship may be severed by the unilateral action of one of the joint tenants and that doing so converts the estate into a tenancy in common and destroys the survivorship interests of the original joint tenants.” (Bryant Sr. at p. 15).  In other words, the conveyance by one of the joint tenancy owners, who owns the property with a right of survivorship, essentially converts the holding of the property to tenancy in common when they deed their interest to another party. That is exactly what occurred in this case. The Court then considered this specific case and found that when Ms. Bryant conveyed her interest in the property to the grandson, it severed her joint tenancy with right of survivorship with her son. At that point, the son and grandson became tenant in common owners and the right of survivorship was destroyed at that time.


This case can certainly have implications in estates and real estate transactions. It is an important principle that will apply to all real estate transactions and estates in Tennessee. The fact there is a right of survivorship at the time of an original deed does not mean the right of survivorship can never be modified, as is shown in this case. This is true even without the approval of all of the owners of the property. This is a very important case in Tennessee and needs to be considered carefully when determining estate planning and the handling of an estate.


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TAGS: Real Estate, Tennessee Probate Law
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Jason A. Lee is a Member of Burrow Lee, PLLC. Contact Jason at 615-540-1004 or jlee@burrowlee.com for an initial consultation on wills estate planning and probate issues.

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Tennessee Wills and Estates Blog
Jason A. Lee, Member of Burrow Lee, PLLC
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Phone: 615-540-1004
E-mail: jlee@burrowlee.com