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Downing v. Downing

Court of Appeals of Maryland
606 A.2d 208 (Md. 1992)


Helen Downing was the sole owner of her family farm. She had two children, John Downing (defendant) and Bonnie Downing (plaintiff). In 1972, Helen conveyed the farm in fee simple to a straw man, Stanford Hoff. Hoff immediately conveyed the farm in fee simple to Helen and her son John, with the deed stating that they were “joint tenants.” Prior to 1972, Helen allowed John Myers to farm crops on the land in exchange for payments to her. This arrangement continued with John Downing’s consent after 1972. In 1985, Helen and John executed a mortgage on the farm. Helen died in 1987, making no mention of the farm in her will. The residue of her estate was to be divided evenly between her two children, John and Bonnie. In 1988, as representative of Helen’s estate, Bonnie filed a complaint to have the 1972 deed interpreted as creating a tenancy in common. As a tenancy in common, at Helen’s death an undivided half of the farm would have passed to John and half to Helen’s estate. As a joint tenancy, John would have become the sole owner at the moment of Helen’s death. The magistrate concluded that there was no joint tenancy because the deed did not mention a right of survivorship, a requirement for a joint tenancy. The magistrate also held that the farming arrangement and the mortgage would have destroyed a joint tenancy. John appealed to the circuit court, which held that although a joint tenancy had been created, it was severed into a tenancy in common when the property was mortgaged. The Maryland Court of Appeals then granted certiorari.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Chasanow, J.)

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