Tag Archives: Title By Prescription

Tennessee Supreme Court holds that family is entitled to keep its farm because it acquired “title by prescription.”

By Daniel A. Horwitz

Following a highly complex series of property conveyances, inheritances, tenancies, life estates, split tracts and quitclaims that would make even a bar exam drafter blush, the Tennessee Supreme Court has held that a family is entitled to keep its farm because it acquired title to the farm “by prescription.”

In 1918, property owners conveyed their farmland to a husband and wife.  Unfortunately, in 1918, Tennessee property law was in a highly complicated “hiatus period.”  In 1913, Tennessee enacted the Married Women’s Property Act,[1] which was designed, among other things, to recognize “the right[] of a married woman to . . . manage and control her own property.”[2]  In 1919, however, the General Assembly reinstated a portion of property law that had been eliminated in 1913.  Thus, “from the period between January 1, 1914, and April 15, 1919, a conveyance of real property to a husband and wife created a tenancy in common, with no right of survivorship; at all other times . . . however, such a conveyance created a tenancy by the entirety with a right of ownership in the surviving spouse.”[3]

Fast-forwarding approximately a hundred years through a series of conveyances, inheritances and tract splits involving multiple family members, a property dispute arose over who owned a portion of the farmland in question.  One family—the Baileys—had been living on the disputed property for decades.  However, if the property law that was in effect during 1918 had been understood and applied correctly during the previous century of property transactions, then another family—the Littletons—would have had a partial ownership stake in the land.  Thus, the Littletons sued the Baileys claiming partial ownership in their farm.

Fortunately, Tennessee law has a simple way to deal with disputes like this one that don’t require reaching back a hundred years and parsing through dozens of property conveyances and inheritances in an effort to retroactively fix earlier misunderstandings.  Under the doctrine of “title by prescription,” an individual can Continue reading Tennessee Supreme Court holds that family is entitled to keep its farm because it acquired “title by prescription.”