Joint Tenants vs. Tenants in Common

Your Will isn’t the only important part of your Estate plan.  For a lot of people their home and superannuation make up a significant portion of their assets.  But what you may not realise is that these assets may not be dealt with by your Will once you pass away.


So firstly, what if you own real property such as your residential home with your spouse or an investment property with another person. Do you know if that property is held as joint tenants or tenants in common?

Now this question comes up all the time and most clients don’t know the difference so I thought it might be useful to give the readers a quick crash course on joint tenants versus tenants in common.


It is really common for spouses to own property, particularly their family home, as joint tenants.  The joint tenants ownership structure says that your share in the property automatically passes to the surviving owner.  With this structure, the property does not form part of your distributable estate. Even if your Will says I leave my share in this property to say, the local dog shelter, the Will is disregarded if it’s joint tenants and the property goes straight to the surviving joint owner.


On the other hand, tenants in common means that each owner of the property has a distinct share which can be an equal share or an unequal share in that property and you can each leave your share to whoever you like and your Will will determine where that asset goes after you pass away.


If you own a property jointly as tenants in common with another person and your Will provides that you leave your property to the local dog shelter, then that share in the property will go to local dog shelter, and they will own that property with the surviving tenant.


When you’re looking at and preparing your estate plan, it’s really important to know and understand how you own property.  Not sure if you’re a joint tenant or a tenant in common?  No fear, a lot of people don’t know how their property is held but you can look back at your purchase contract to check how you purchased the home or your lawyer can assist you in ordering a title search (which you can get via Land Registry Services). The title search will show you if you hold the property as joint tenants or tenants in common.


Did you know that you can also alter how you hold the property?  It is possible to sever a joint tenancy (with or without the co-owner’s permission).

If you are ready to have a chat about your estate planning documents, please telephone our office for an appointment with one of our experienced Estate Planning Lawyers.
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