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Concurrent Ownership of Real Estate

Real estate may be owned by one or more people at the same time. This is called concurrent ownership. The three kinds of concurrent ownership are tenancy in common, joint tenancy, and tenancy by the entireties.

Tenancy in Common

A tenancy in common allows more than one co-tenant to own a separate but undivided share of property, with each having the right to possess the whole. Neither co-tenant has the right to inherit the other co-tenant’s share, but each co-tenant can pass his interest under his will.

Joint Tenancy

Property that is owned in joint tenancy is owned by more than one person, each of whom has an undivided interest in the property, with the right of survivorship. That means that, when a joint tenant dies, the surviving joint tenants take the deceased joint tenant’s share. That process continues until the last joint tenant has the entire estate.

Joint tenants are regarded as one entity, no matter how many co-tenants there are. A joint tenancy is created when the elements called “the four unities” are satisfied. This means that all co-tenants take their interest at the same time under the same written instrument. All co-tenants must have the same interests and an equal right to possess the property. In most cases, if any joint tenant severs a joint tenancy by conveying his interest to a third party, the right of survivorship is severed as well because the four unities are destroyed. In such case, the joint tenancy becomes a tenancy in common. Depending on the circumstances, a court may intervene if it appears that the conveyance was made without an intent to sever the right of survivorship.

Joint tenancy is often used as a substitute for a will because property that is held in joint tenancy will pass to the surviving joint tenant(s) without the need for probate.

Tenancy by the Entireties

A tenancy by the entireties can only be created between a husband and a wife. To create a tenancy by the entireties, “the four unities” must be satisfied, as well as the unity of marriage, which is often called the fifth unity. The feature that distinguishes the tenancy by the entireties from a joint tenancy is that neither tenant can sever the tenancy or the right of survivorship. As one might think, a divorce would terminate the fifth unity and the tenancy.

Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.