Estate Planning and Property Ownership

When writing a Will for a client, it is important to find out if he or she owns any real estate, and more particularly, if the client owns real estate with other people. I need to know if my client owns the land as a tenant-in-common or as a joint tenant. This question often stumps clients, as they do not know where to find this information out, nor do they know what the two terms mean.

To find out, look at the title certificate for the land. It will say whether the people own the land as tenants-in-common or as joint tenants.

A joint tenancy involves a right of survivorship. This means that when one joint tenant dies, the surviving joint tenant(s) automatically take over the deceased’s interest in the land. For example, 3 joint tenants each own 1/3 of a parcel of land. If one of them dies, the 2 survivors then each own 1/2 of the land. This is important for estate planning because land held by joint tenants changes ownership without passing through the estate and is not dealt with under the Will.

Alternatively, land owned by tenants-in-common is affected by a Will. If 3 people own land as tenants-in-common, they each own 1/3 of the property. If one of them dies, the 2 survivors continue to each own 1/3 of the land. The deceased’s 1/3 would pass through his or her estate and would be given to the beneficiaries set out in the Will.

Wills and estates lawyers provide specific information to clients in each of these circumstances, as well as specific advice about how to use a joint tenancy or ownership as tenants-in-common to meet the client’s estate planning goals. Share your stories with us by email.  We want to hear from you! On our website, click on “blog” to read all of our past articles.