In re the Estate of Koeferl (WI)


Summary: A deed that on its face conveyed title to the transferees in joint tenancy and described the transferees as “husband and wife” will be interpreted as a joint tenancy regardless of whether the transferees are in fact married, as long as no other intent to convey some other form of title is expressed on the face of the deed.


In re the Estate of Koeferl, 2012 AP 80, (Wis. Ct. App. 2012).


Facts:  James Koeferl and Christine Oleinik cohabitated from 1991 until James’ death in 2008; they never married but Christine did use “Koeferl” as her last name. In 2001, the two purchased a farm together and the deed conveyed and warranted to “James G. Koeferl and Christine V. Koeferl, husband and wife, as survivorship marital property…” Upon James’ death, Christine and The Estate disputed whether the farm was held in joint tenancy or as a tenancy in common. The estate argued that the deed was ambiguous because James and Christine were not in fact married. The trial court disagreed, determining that a joint tenancy was created by applying Wis.Stat. §700.19. The estate appealed the decision arguing the language “husband and wife, as survivorship marital property” cannot be applied to determine ownership because is a “legal impossibility” since Christine and James never married.


Holding:  Affirmed by the appellate court. The Estate failed to cite any authority for its “legal impossibility” assertion, to which the appellate court stated it “rejects all arguments that are inadequately briefed or not supported by legal authority.” The court also found that the language was a “legal possibility” by applying Wis.Stat. §700.19, which in pertinent part says a joint tenancy is created “if persons named as owners in a document of title, transferees in an instrument of transfer or buyers in a bill of sale are described in the document, instrument or bill of sale as husband and wife, or are in fact husband and wife, they are joint tenants, unless the intent to create a tenancy in common is expressed” (emphasis added).

The statute allows James and Christine to hold as joint tenants if either they were “in fact” married, or if they were “described in the deed as husband and wife.” Here, the deed described James and Christine as husband and wife so there is no legal impossibility and no ambiguity. The court further stated that the rules of contracts apply to interpreting a deed, which shall be construed according to the terms found within the four corners of the deed. Where a deed is susceptible to only one interpretation, extrinsic evidence may not be used in order to show the parties’ intent. The deed was unambiguous on its face and the intent of James and Christine was clearly to create a joint tenancy, and no expression to create a tenancy in common was found elsewhere on the deed. Therefore, the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s finding that Christine Oleinik owned the farm as the surviving joint tenant.

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By: ATG Underwriting Department | Posted on: Fri, 01/11/2013 - 1:10pm