Estates • Probate • Validity of Transfer • Real Estate Interest

Bell v. Singletary, PICS Case No. 14-0125 (C.P. Monroe Jan. 8, 2014) Williamson, J. (9 pages).

Decedent Ollie Johnson Sr. executed a deed transferring a one-half interest in real property to defendant Delores Singletary. Prior to his death, decedent also executed a codicil to his will in which he named Singletary as beneficiary of a one-half interest in the property. After decedent’s death, Singletary executed a note and mortgage in favor of defendant Citizens Bank encumbering the Property as collateral.

Plaintiff Frances Bell, executrix of the estate of the decedent, brought suit against defendants, asserting that Singletary only had a one-half interest in the Property at the time the note and mortgage were executed with the other half remaining in the estate, and that Singletary had no authority from the estate to encumber the other half with the mortgage. Plaintiff alleged claims of misappropriation, fraud, and unjust enrichment against Singletary, and misappropriation and fraud against Citizens with regard to the note and mortgage.

Citizens filed preliminary objections to plaintiff’s complaint on the basis of insufficient specificity under Pa.R.Civ.P. 1028(a)(3) and legal insufficiency under Rule 1028(a)(4). Citizens argued that the undisputed allegations of the complaint show that Singletary was the sole owner of the Property at the time of the execution of the note and mortgage, and that plaintiff failed to raise a timely estate.

The court found that decedent had executed a valid transfer of a one-half interest in the property to Singletary as a tenant in common. The court further noted that a tenant in common owns a separate and distinct undivided title in which they have full legal authority to convey, encumber, or devise said interest without the consent of any other tenants in common.

Moreover, the court found that the facts of the complaint established that decedent clearly devised his remaining one-half interest as tenant in common to Singletary in a codicil to his will. Therefore, at the time Singletary executed the note and mortgage, three years after decedent’s death, she had the entire fee simple interest in the property.

The court concluded that even if the codicil was not a valid bequest, Singletary had at least a one-half interest that she was free to encumber, and therefore defendants had committed no fraud or misappropriation. Additionally, plaintiff had also failed to bring her claim in a timely manner as required under 20 Pa.C.S.A. §3133(c). For those reasons, the court ruled that plaintiff failed to raise a cause of action.