Ways To Own Property Together

Joint ownership with right of survivorship; the owners (there can be more than two) hold the property together. If one dies, his or her share passes automatically to the other owner (or other owners, usually in equal parts). This form of ownership is for married couples, for any two people who live together and need a convenient household account, and for truly committed unmarried couples. It protects gay couples whose relatives might attack a will. Your contribution to the joint account can be attached by your creditors, but your partner’s share can’t.

To put something in joint ownership, you list it as such on the deed, title, or other ownership document, specifying “with right of survivorship.” That is important. Otherwise, it might be argued that you held the property only as tenants in common.

Joint ownership is not an inescapable trap. You can generally get out of it although not always easily even if the other owner objects. The ways of doing this vary, depending on your state’s laws. When a jointly owned property is sold, the proceeds are normally divided equally. If you all agree, however, you can make an unequal division (gift taxes might be due if one owner gives the others part or all of his share).

Tenancy in common; this is a good way to own a beach house or snow blower with a friend. Married couples use this method when they want to leave their share of a co-owned property in trust. So do unmarried couples who can imagine an end to their relationship.

Each tenant in common has a share in the property, although not necessarily an equal share. You can sell or give away your share at any time. In the case of a house owned in common, for example, your partner could sell his piece to his brother and suddenly you would have a new roommate. If the owners fall out, one might buy the other’s share. Or one could file a partition lawsuit that might force the property to be sold.

You can pass your share to anyone at death; it doesn’t automatically go to the other owners. If you die without a will, your share of the property will be distributed to your relatives, according to state law.

Tenancy by the entirety; this arrangement, for married couples only, must be established in writing (a properly worded deed will do it) and is recognized by twenty states.