From Casetext: Smarter Legal Research

Hiles v. Fisher

Court of Appeals of the State of New York
Jan 15, 1895
39 N.E. 337 (N.Y. 1895)

Summary

In Hiles v. Fisher, 144 N.Y. 306, 39 N.E. 337 (1895), the New York Court of Appeals held that "[t]he husband had a right to mortgage his interest, which was a right to the use of an undivided half of the estate during the joint lives and to the fee in case he survived his wife."

Summary of this case from In re Persky

Opinion

Argued October 19, 1894

Decided January 15, 1895

A.P. Smith for appellant.

S.D. Halliday for respondent.



It was decided in Bertles v. Nunan ( 92 N.Y. 152) that the separate property acts relating to the rights of married women had not abrogated the common-law doctrine, that under a conveyance to husband and wife they take not as tenants in common, nor as joint tenants, but by the entirety, and upon the death of either the survivor takes the whole estate. In that case the husband had died, leaving his wife surviving, and the question was whether the wife as survivor took upon the death of her husband the entire fee under the doctrine of the common law. The question, what change, if any, had been wrought by the separate property acts in respect to the common-law rights of the husband to control and use the property conveyed to husband and wife during their joint lives, was not considered or decided, but was expressly reserved on the ground that it was not involved in the case then before the court. That question is involved in the present case and must now be decided.

The decision in Bertles v. Nunan is supported by the great weight of authority in other jurisdictions in this country, but in some of the states it has been held that as a consequence of statutory provisions substantially like those in this state, conferring upon married women the right to take and hold separate property to their own use, free from the control of their husbands, as femes sole, estates by entireties have been abrogated and turned into tenancies in common. In the states where this construction has been put upon the married women's acts, the question of the rights of the parties to the usufruct during their joint lives could scarely arise, because it is one of the generally admitted results of this legislation that the common-law right vested in the husband to the rents, profits and use of his wife's real estate during their joint lives has been destroyed.

It is, however, a much more serious question what the effect of this legislation is upon the common-law right of the husband to the usufruct during the joint lives of the husband and wife, of lands conveyed to them jointly, in those states where it is held that notwithstanding the new legislation a conveyance to husband and wife retains its common-law character and incidents. If the rights of the husband to the use during the joint lives of lands held under this tenure was a right growing out of and incident to this particular species of tenancy; in other words, if it was one of its specific and essential characteristics, then it would be difficult to segregate this right from the other rights incident to and flowing from the tenancy, and to say that while the estate by entireties continues this feature of it was intended to be taken away. But the taking away from the husband the usufruct during the joint lives of lands conveyed to husband and wife would not be inconsistent with the continuance of tenancies by entireties, provided the common-law right to the usufruct was not an incident of the tenancy, but of the marital right operating upon property so held, as upon all other real property of the wife. The grand characteristic which distinguishes a tenancy by the entirety from a joint tenancy is its inseverability, whereby neither the husband nor the wife, without the assent of the other, can dispose of any part of the estate so as to affect the right of survivorship in the other. (1 Bl. 182; Wash. on Real Prop. 425.) Each is said to be seized of the whole estate, and they do not take by moieties, and the reason assigned in the old books for this anomalous characteristic of this estate is the legal unity of the husband and wife, and the incapacity of the wife to hold a separate and severable estate in lands under a joint conveyance to both. The alleged incapacity of a wife to take and hold lands conveyed to husband and wife as joint tenant or tenant in common with him seems inconsistent with the doctrine which has finally obtained, that by express words of a grant or devise to husband and wife that species of tenure would be created. This was pointed out in Miner v. Brown ( 133 N.Y. 308), and authorities were cited to show that where the intention disclosed by the deed or will was to create a tenancy in common that estate would be created. (See, also, McDermott v. French, 15 N.J. Eq. 78; Wales v. Coffin, 13 Allen, 213; 1 Wn. on Real Prop. 425.) There is a tendency now to regard the creation of an estate by the entirety as resting upon a rule of construction rather than upon a rule of law, and to regard the intention as disclosed by the deed or will creating it as the governing rule for determining whether that estate was created rather than a joint tenancy or tenancy in common. (See In re March, 27 Ch. Div. 166, and cases before cited.) It was conceded under the old law that husband and wife, who were joint tenants or tenants in common of lands before marriage, remained so afterwards. (Coke on Litt. 187b.) It would seem to follow that there was no general incapacity in the wife to hold lands with the husband in joint tenancy or as tenant in common. The quality of the estate held by husband and wife as tenants by the entirety, in the aspect of its inseverability, has been adverted to. But it is important in view of the subsequent discussion to observe that the wife, as well as the husband, took an estate under a grant to both. Each was said to be seized of the whole, and not of any separate part. Neither could convey his or her interest to the prejudice of the right of survivorship in the other. The common law, however, wholly ignored this principle of equality between husband and wife in regulating the rights of the parties to the enjoyment of the estate during the joint lives. They were not regarded as having a joint seizin or a joint possession for the purpose of the use during coverture. The husband was held to be entitled to the full control and to take the rents and profits of the land during the joint lives to the exclusion of the wife, and he had power to sell, mortgage or lease for the same period, and this life interest was, according to the weight of authority, subject to the claims of his creditors. ( Barber v. Harris, 15 Wend. 615; Jackson v. McConnell, 19 id. 175; Meeker v. Wright, 76 N.Y. 262; Bertles v. Nunan, supra; Ames v. Norman, 4 Sneed, 683; Pray v. Stebbins, 141 Mass. 219.) But the right of the husband at common law to take the rents and profits of lands held by him and his wife as tenants by the entirety, during coverture, and to assign and dispose of them during that period, did not, we apprehend, spring from the peculiar nature of this estate. He acquired no such right by force of the conveyance itself, and it was not an incident thereto. It was a right which followed the conveyance and inured to the husband from the general principle of the common law which vested in the husband jure uxoris the rents and profits of his wife's lands during their joint lives. (2 Kent Com. 130); Stewart on Husb. Wife, § 308.) The husband took the rents and profits of lands held in entirety upon the same right that he took the rents and profits of her other real estate, whether held by a sole or joint title, namely, his right as husband. In none of the definitions of tenancies by entireties have we found any suggestion that this was one of the incidents or characteristics of such estates, and we think it is plain, both upon reason and analogy, that it had its origin in those harsh principles of common law which destroyed for most purposes the legal identity of the wife and subjected her person and property to the control of her husband.

In considering what effect, if any, the legislation in this state has had upon the right of the husband to the rents, profits and control of lands held by him and his wife in entirety, during their joint lives, it is important to regard not only the language, but the spirit of the new enactments. The sole purpose of the original statute of 1848 was to secure to married women the enjoyment of their real and personal property which belonged to them at the time of their marriage, or which they might thereafter acquire by gift, grant or bequest from third persons, and to abrogate the common-law right of the husband in and to the real and personal property of the wife. The right to the rents and profits of her lands jure uxoris, during the joint lives, was completely swept away, not by express enactment, but as a necessary consequence of investing her with the beneficial use of her own property, free from his control. Subsequent legislation confirmed her rights as defined by the act of 1848, and enlarged them in other directions, but the act of 1848 was the seed from which all the subsequent legislation sprung. This legislation rendered unnecessary any longer the cumbrous mechanism of settlements or resort to the imperfect powers of Courts of Chancery to secure to married women the enjoyment of their own property.

In determining the question now before us, too much emphasis cannot be placed upon the fact that the legislation of 1848 and the subsequent years uprooted the principle of the common law, hoary with age, which vested in the husband, by virtue of the marriage relation, control of the property of his wife and the right to exclude her from its enjoyment. If it is still held, notwithstanding this legislation, that the husband takes the whole rents and profits during coverture in lands held in entirety, and may exclude the wife from any participation therein, an exception is allowed, standing upon no principle, and it deprives the wife, although she has an undoubted interest and estate in the land, from any benefit thereof during the lives of both. There are, as we can perceive, but two other alternatives. Either the rents and profits follow the nature of the estate, and can neither be disposed of nor charged except by the joint act of both husband and wife, which seems to be the view taken in McCurdy v. Canning (64 Pa. St. 39), or the parties become tenants in common or joint tenants of the use, each being entitled to one-half of the rents and profits during the joint lives, with power to each to dispose of or to charge his or her moiety during the same period, which seems to be the view taken in Buttlar v. Rosenblath ( 42 N.J. Eq. 651). We think the rule adopted in New Jersey best reconciles the difficulties surrounding the subject. The estate granted is not thereby changed. It leaves it untouched, with all its common-law incidents. It deals with the rents and profits and the use and control of the estate during coverture only, and gives to each party equal rights so long as the question of survivorship is in abeyance, thereby conforming to the intention of the new legislation to take away the husband's right jure uxoris, in his wife's property, and to enable the wife to have and enjoy "whatever estate she gets by any conveyance made to her or to her and others jointly, and does not enlarge or diminish that estate." The rule in Pennsylvania not only deprives the husband of his common-law right to the enjoyment of the whole rents and profits, but of the enjoyment of any share thereof, except with the concurrence and permission of his wife.

The conclusion we have reached requires a reversal of the judgment below so far as it adjudges that the mortgage executed by the husband to the plaintiff, and the sale thereunder, vested in the plaintiff the right to the possession of the whole estate during the joint lives of Mr. and Mrs. Fisher. The husband had a right to mortgage his interest, which was a right to the use of an undivided half of the estate during the joint lives and to the fee in case he survived his wife, and by the foreclosure and sale the plaintiff acquired this interest and became a tenant in common with the wife of the premises subject to her right of survivorship. The opinion of the General Term exhibits, with great clearness, the reasons upon which it was held that a conveyance or mortgage by the husband, without restrictive words, binds the fee in case he survives the wife. (See 1 Wn. Real Prop. 425; 1 Prest. Est. 135; Ames v. Norman, supra.)

The judgment below should be modified in accordance with this opinion, and, as modified, affirmed, without costs to either party.

All concur, except HAIGHT, J., not sitting.

Judgment accordingly.


Summaries of

Hiles v. Fisher

Court of Appeals of the State of New York
Jan 15, 1895
39 N.E. 337 (N.Y. 1895)

In Hiles v. Fisher, 144 N.Y. 306, 39 N.E. 337 (1895), the New York Court of Appeals held that "[t]he husband had a right to mortgage his interest, which was a right to the use of an undivided half of the estate during the joint lives and to the fee in case he survived his wife."

Summary of this case from In re Persky

In Hiles v. Fisher, 144 N.Y. 306, 39 N.E. 337, 30 L.R.A. 305, the New York Court of Appeals held that the common-law right of the husband to the entire usufruct of an estate by the entireties during the joint lives of the husband and wife is an incident of that estate, but is a part of his common-law marital rights; and therefore the rents and profits belong to them in separate moieties, and the wife's share is within the statute giving married women power to control and dispose of their own property.

Summary of this case from Columbian Carbon Co. v. Kight

In Hiles v. Fisher, supra, Chief Justice Andrews held that the right of the husband to rents and profits was net an incident of tenancy by the entirety but rather the right of control which the common law gave the husband over the property of the wife This right, he concluded, had been swept away as a necessary consequence of legislation investing her with the beneficial use of her own property, free from his control.

Summary of this case from Arrand v. Graham

In Hiles v. Fisher (144 N.Y. 306) the plaintiff acquired the husband's interest by a foreclosure sale and thus became a tenant in common with the wife, subject to her right of survivorship.

Summary of this case from Burrofato v. Cretella

In Hiles v. Fisher (supra) it was held that the sale created a tenancy in common of the rents and profits of the estate, not of the occupancy thereof.

Summary of this case from Matter of Berlin v. Herbert

In Hiles v. Fisher (supra) it was conclusively established that tenants by the entirety are each entitled to one half of the rents and profits so long as the question of survivorship is in abeyance.

Summary of this case from Kawalis v. Kawalis

In Hiles v. Fisher (supra) we have a case of the mortgaging by the husband of his interest in an estate by the entireties, a foreclosure of the mortgage, and a purchase by the holder of the mortgage of the husband's estate.

Summary of this case from Finnegan v. Humes
Case details for

Hiles v. Fisher

Case Details

Full title:JOHN E. HILES, Respondent, v . MARIA J. FISHER, Impleaded, etc., Appellant

Court:Court of Appeals of the State of New York

Date published: Jan 15, 1895

Citations

39 N.E. 337 (N.Y. 1895)
39 N.E. 337
63 N.Y. St. Rptr. 705

Citing Cases

Ganoe v. Ohmart

His grantee or alienee took title thereto subject to the right of survivorship in his wife. If the husband…

Matter of Klatzl

( Bertles v. Nunan, supra, p. 160.) If the legislature should wholly abrogate that principle it would remove…