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Colton v. Wade

Court of Chancery of Delaware, New Castle County

May 10, 1951

COLTON et al.
v.
WADE.

Beatrice L. Colton and others sued Lillian Wade to impress a constructive trust in plaintiffs' favor on defendant's legal title to realty held by her and her husband as tenants by the entirety before he was shot and killed by defendant. On defendant's motion to dismiss the action or grant her a summary judgment. The Court of Chancery, Seitz, V. C., held that a tenant by the entirety, who kills the other tenant, possesses the whole legal interest in the property involved, but in equity holds such interest on a constructive trust for others entitled to the deceased tenant's estate, except that the surviving tenant is entitled to the commuted value of the net income of half of the property for the period of the survivor's life expectancy.

Order denying the motion.

Page 924

[32 Del.Ch. 124] Louis L. Redding, Wilmington, for plaintiffs.

H. Albert Young and Stephen E. Hamilton, Jr., Wilmington, for defendant.

SEITZ, Vice Chancellor.

For purposes of disposing of the present motions, the well pleaded factual allegations must be taken as true. Plaintiffs are the only next of kin and heirs at law of William Wade, deceased. The defendant is William Wade's widow. During the lifetime of William Wade he and his wife took title as tenants by the entirety to a certain piece of real estate. On August 30, 1950 the defendant shot and killed her husband and thereafter was indicted for the crime of first degree murder. On October 25, 1950 the defendant entered a plea of ‘ guilty’ and was convicted of the crime of manslaughter for the killing of her husband.[1] Upon the death of William Wade, his wife held the absolute legal title to the

Page 925

real property previously held by them as tenants by the entirety.

Plaintiffs ask, inter alia, that a constructive trust be impressed in plaintiffs' favor on the legal title to the whole of the real estate on the ground that the defendant should not be permitted to profit by her own wrong.

Defendant has moved to dismiss the action because the complaint fails to state a claim against the defendant upon which relief can be granted, or in the alternative to [32 Del.Ch. 125] grant summary judgment to the defendant because there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the defendant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.

Defendant argues first that because of the nature of an estate by the entirety at common law in Delaware nothing passed to the defendant Lillian Wade upon her husband's death. Consequently, she argues that to interfere with her complete ownership and possession would do violence to the common law concept of tenancies by the entirety, citing, inter alia, Beddingfield v. Estill & Newman, 118 Tenn. 39, 100 S.W. 108, 9 L.R.A.N.S., 640.

The defendant next argues that since the interest or estate of the survivor was not enlarged by her wrongful act, to deprive her of her interest in the property would violate Art. I, Sec. 15 of the Constitution of the State of Delaware.

The defendant finally argues that because the recently enacted Delaware statute, 47 Laws of Del., Chapt. 104, providing for forfeiture after conviction for wrongful killing of a husband, relates to dower only, by implication such wrongful act was not to apply to any other property interest.

The first question involved is whether this court of equity can impress a constructive trust on the legal title to real estate previously held by the entireties and now held by the surviving tenant alone by virtue of a survivorship ...


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