Holmes v. Beatty, 290 S.W.3d 852 (Tex. 2009).

Community Property Survivorship Agreements

Statement of Survivorship Feature


Husband and Wife held investment accounts with the designation “JT TEN.” The spouses signed the agreement but did not indicate whether the account had, or did not have, the survivorship feature. The appellate court held that these accounts did not have the survivorship feature because they did not include an express statement of the survivorship feature as required by Probate Code § 452.

In a significant departure from established Texas law, the court determined that holding community property as joint tenants automatically includes the survivorship feature and that the designation “JT TEN” is an acceptable abbreviation. In so deciding, the court relied on the common law under which joint tenancies carried with them the survivorship feature. However, the court disregarded long-established Texas law which requires that the survivorship be expressly stated. See Probate Code § 46(a) (survivorship in separate or individual property cannot be inferred from the mere fact that the property is held in joint ownership); Probate Code § 452 (requiring community property survivorship agreements to contain an express statement of the survivorship feature); Stauffer v. Henderson, 801 S.W.2d 858 (Tex. 1990) (holding that extrinsic evidence cannot be used to show a right of survivorship for joint bank accounts between non-spouses).

The court bases its conclusion on the allegedly “weaker” language of Probate Code § 452 which does not require the survivorship language to be stated in “substantially” the same manner as provided in the statute as does Probate Code § 439. The court explains that “[p]recedent, trade usage, and seminal treatises make clear that joint tenancies carry rights of survivorship.”

Moral: Community property held as joint tenants automatically has the survivorship feature even if that feature is not expressly stated or intended by the spouses.




Husband and Wife owned stocks which clearly stated that the spouses were holding them as joint tenants with rights of survivorship. However, the spouses did not sign the certificates. The appellate court held that their failure to sign the certificates resulted in a valid community property survivorship agreement not being created because Probate Code § 452 requires the agreement to be signed by both spouses.

The Texas Supreme Court reversed. The court explained that the accounts from which the stocks were issued were held as joint tenants and had the survivorship feature. The only way for the spouses to terminate the survivorship feature was through a subsequent written agreement or to dispose of the assets. Probate Code § 455. The mere fact that the stock was issued out of the account in certificate form did not act as a disposition of the property covered by the agreement.

Note that the court rejected the argument that Probate Code § 450 applied to the certificates. The court pointed to Probate Code § 46(b) which states that survivorship agreements in community property are governed by Part 3 of Chapter XI. Because § 450 is not in this Part, it is inapplicable to community property survivorship agreements.

Moral: Merely changing the form in which community property with survivorship rights is held is not sufficient to revoke the survivorship agreement.