Catie Spink, of the Thompson Smith and Puxon (TSP) Residential Property team explains about joint ownership of a property.

When two or more people are purchasing a property and will be registered as joint owners, it is important to consider how the property will be held as this will affect what happens to the property following the death of a co-owner or a relationship breakdown.  A property can be held in two ways: as joint tenants, or as tenants in common.

Joint tenants: Where a property is specifically stated to be held as joint tenants it is regarded as belonging to the owners equally (i.e. half each).  When one owner dies, the survivor will automatically become the sole owner of the whole property, regardless of the terms of any will made by the deceased owner.

Tenants in common: Where a property is held by owners as tenants in common they can declare the shares in which the property is owned (for example 50/50 or 70/30). A share may be left by will to someone other than the other owner(s). If the shares of ownership are not declared the presumption will be that the owners intended to own it equally (i.e. 50/50). That presumption could be overturned by a court if later one owner disagrees about what was intended. This risk can be reduced if the ownership is specificlly declared either in the Transfer Document or a Deed of Trust. A Deed of Trust could provide for the proceeds of the sale to be paid to a third party.

If a tenant in common does not make a will setting out what is to happen to his share in the property on his death the law of Intestacy will determine who should receive it and this may not do what the deceased would have wanted. Therefore, when a property is owned as a tenancy in common it is extremely important that the owners make wills setting out what they want to happen to their shares.

Can I change the way the property is held? It is possible to change the way your property is owned at any time. For example if it is held as joint tenants, a joint owner can choose to sever the joint tenancy and convert it into a tenancy in common in equal shares. This is most common on relationship breakdown. Equally, a tenancy in common can be converted into a joint tenancy with the agreement of all joint owners.

How do I find out how my property is held? If you are uncertain as to how you own your property or have any concerns as to property ownership, a solicitor can check this for you and advise you further.  It is extremely important that you are aware of how you hold your property if it is jointly owned and that this accords with the terms of your will.

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