Community-Property Agreements Prevail in Conflicts Over Ownership Rights Growing out of Joint-Tenancies

In Lyon v. Lyon, the Washington Supreme Court held that a conveyance of real property in joint tenancy to two brothers, while a community property agreement existed between the married brother and his wife, created a joint tenancy between the commu- nity and the unmarried brother. The court further held that upon the married brother’s death, his wife’s rights in community property under the community property agreement prevailed over the surviving brother’s joint tenancy right of survivorship, so that the wife and the surviving brother now hold the property as tenants in common. The decision is significant to nearly everyone who has any dealings with real property in Washington state, as well as per- sons who have executed community property survivorship agreements.

Richard and his brother Edward Lyon acquired title to the property as a gift from their father through a quitclaim deed executed on October 25, 1968. The deed expressly provided that the brothers take as joint tenants with right of survivorship6 Several years prior to the quitclaim deed, Edward and his wife Margaret had executed and acknowledged a community property survivorship agreement, dated September 22, 1962. The agreement pro- vided that all property then owned or thereafter acquired would be community property and that upon the death of one spouse all community property would vest in the survivor. On January 21, 1980 Edward died and in 1981 Richard filed this action to quiet title to the property. He claimed the property was conveyed as a gift to himself and his brother in joint tenancy with right of survivorship and that Edward’s death vested the whole in him. Margaret claimed that upon vesting, Edward’s separate interest in the property was conveyed to the community under the existing community property agreement. This, she argued, severed the joint tenancy so that Richard and she own the property as tenants in common. The trial court, finding that Edward’s death vested the whole in Richard, granted his motion for summary judgment.

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Kevin John Yanasak, Community-Property Agreements Prevail in Conflicts Over Ownership Rights Growing out of Joint-Tenancies, 19 Gonz. L. Rev. 585 (1983).

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