As I mentioned in my Blog a few weeks ago, there are two ways to jointly own a property – either as ‘joint tenants’ or ‘tenants in common’.
Firstly, the law confuses everyone by using the word ‘tenant’. Most people would say that a tenant rents a property. So apologies from the legal profession for any confusion caused.So, what is the difference in the terminology?
If you own a property as ‘joint tenants’, you and the other owners own the property in equal shares and if one owner dies, the survivors still own the property in equal shares by what is known as ‘survivorship’.
Let me give you an example…
Rachel, Ross, Phoebe and Joey own a house as joint tenants. Joey dies. His share does not pass to his family according to the terms of his Will. Instead, Rachel, Ross and Phoebe now own the house as joint tenants. Then, Rachel dies. Again, her share does not pass to her family, but to the remaining owners, Ross and Phoebe.
If you own a property as ‘tenants in common’, firstly you can own the property in equal shares, or unequal shares. If one owner dies, their share does not automatically pass to the other owners, but will pass under the terms of their Will or by the intestacy rules (if they do not have a Will).
So, if Rachel, Ross, Phoebe and Joey own their house as ‘tenants in common’ say in equal shares, if Joey dies, his quarter share would not pass to the remaining three owners, unless he left his share to them by Will.
It is very common for couples to own their family home as joint tenants. If one dies, the home passes to the survivor automatically.
However, there may be reasons why you do not wish ownership to pass in this way. It may be a second marriage and one spouse may want their children from their previous marriage to benefit. Or, there may be other reasons.
It is possible to sever the joint tenancy, so that you own the property as tenants in common. It is a very simple process, but one that must be done with the benefit of legal advice.