Clingerman v. Sadowski, 513 Pa. 179 (1986)
519 A.2d 378
The following case is for Chapter 12 - The
Law of Property
513 Pa. 179
Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.
Jacqueline Victoria CLINGERMAN,
Executrix of the Estate of Anna M.
Sadowski, deceased, Appellee,
William B. SADOWSKI, Appellant.
Decided Dec. 16, 1986.
The issue in this appeal is whether the death of a tenant by
the entireties, who has instituted an action for partition of
the entireties property, operates to terminate the action
and to vest the disputed property in the surviving tenant.
On October 14, 1981, appellee's decedent, Anna M.
Sadowski, filed a Complaint in Equity against appellant,
William B. Sadowski, seeking equal division of all assets
held by them as tenants by the entireties. The parties were
married in 1936 and separated in May of 1980,
whereupon Mrs. Sadowski left the marital residence to
live with her daughter, Jacqueline Victoria Clingerman. In
her complaint Mrs. Sadowski alleged that without her
knowledge or consent appellant had in May of 1980
transferred their joint account at Gallatin National Bank,
containing a balance of $326,000.00, into an account in
his name alone and that since that time her husband had
made substantial withdrawals from the account, refusing
Mrs. Sadowski any access to the funds contained therein.
Mrs. Sadowski further alleged that appellee had liquidated
most of their model train collection [, a business
. . .
worth approximately $500,000.00, and had
secreted the money realized from the sale into a private
account for his exclusive benefit, withholding the
whereabouts of the unsold trains from Mrs. Sadowski.
Mrs. Sadowski asked the court to order appellant to
account for all funds jointly owned by the parties, as well
as for all cash, coins, art, furniture and furnishings which
may have been sold or removed from the marital
residence since May of 1980. She additionally sought a
permanent injunction to restrain appellant from further
depleting joint assets, and an equal division of all funds
improperly transferred or converted by appellant along
with all other property owned by them as tenants by the
Anna M. Sadowski died on May 16, 1982. The action was
continued by her executrix, Jacqueline Victoria
. . .
appellee herein. Appellant subsequently
moved for judgment on the pleadings on the grounds that
the equity action had abated upon Mrs. Sadowski's death,
and all the disputed property had passed to him as the
surviving tenant by the entireties by operation of law. The
motion was granted, and appellee's action was dismissed
with prejudice. On appeal the Superior Court vacated and
remanded, holding that appellee would be allowed to
proceed as plaintiff and prosecute the equity action.
Appellant filed a petition for review which we granted in
order to consider the question whether the death of a
tenant by the entireties who has instituted an action in
partition of the entireties property results in the abatement
of the action and the passing to the surviving spouse of
unrestricted title to the property. For the reasons which
follow we hold that it does not.
A tenancy by the entireties is a unique form of co-
ownership grounded in the common law concept that
husband and wife were but one legal entity.
. . .
by the entireties is also characterized by the right of
survivorship; upon the death of one spouse the survivor
becomes the sole owner of the entireties property. . . .
Because a tenancy by the entireties is grounded in the
unity of the marital relationship, it can be severed only in
certain limited circumstances. It is, of course, terminated
upon the death of one of the co-tenants. During the
parties' lifetimes it may be severed by: a joint conveyance
of the estate. . . ; divorce . . . ; or mutual agreement, either
express . . . or implied . . . . An implied mutual agreement
to terminate a tenancy by the entireties was first
recognized by this Court in
Berhalter v. Berhalter, supra.
In that case we concluded that the action of a wife,
separated from her husband, in withdrawing substantial
funds from their entireties bank account without her
husband's knowledge for the purpose of moving to France
was tantamount to an offer by her to the husband to
destroy the entireties account. The husband's subsequent
institution of suit for division of the fund constituted an
acceptance of the offer. . . .