There are different forms of real estate ownership. Each gives the property owner specific rights as well as restricting certain rights, which might include the right of conveyance, such as in community property ownership. Joint tenancy is one form of real estate ownership. The rights and restrictions under joint tenancy can vary according to state law.
Right of Inheritance
Joint tenancy is for two or more owners. One of the common characteristics of joint tenancy is the right of survivorship. This means that if one of the owners dies, his share of the property goes to the surviving owners, as opposed to his heirs. When a married couple owns a home as community property, either party can will his share to someone else, without the other spouse’s consent, which can be rather shocking news for the widower who discovers his wife left her half of their home to her boyfriend. Had the couple owned the home in joint tenancy instead of community property, the husband would normally inherit his wife’s share of the home after her death.
Most states recognize joint tenancy, yet some of these have abolished the “right of survivorship” as an automatic characteristic of joint tenancy. In these states, the deed must specifically reference the right of survivorship.
While the joint tenant with right of survivorship can’t will his share in the property to his heir, he can sell his interest in the property before his death. Once a joint tenant sells his share, this ends the joint tenancy ownership involving the share. The new owner is not a joint tenant, yet the rights of the other owners remain. For example, if John, Bill and Susan own property as joint tenancy with right of survivorship, and Susan sells her share to Ann, Ann is not included in the joint tenancy and can will her share to her heir. Yet, if John dies, his share goes to Bill.
There are four conditions necessary when creating a joint tenancy; they include possession, interest, title and time. Real estate professionals use the acronym PITT to help them remember the four conditions, referred to as unities. Possession means each joint tenants holds an undivided right to possession. Unity of interest means they each hold an equal interest in the property. Time means all owners must acquire their ownership at the same time. Title means the tenants all acquired ownership using the same document. Depending on the state’s law, it is possible for a sole owner of property to issue a new deed to create a joint tenancy.
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Ann Johnson has been a freelance writer since 1995. She previously served as the editor of a community magazine in Southern California and was also an active real-estate agent, specializing in commercial and residential properties. She has a Bachelor of Arts in communications from California State University, Fullerton.