What is Joint Tenancy?

Joint tenancy is a form of ownership of property between two or more people. The fundamental difference between joint tenancy and most other forms of property ownership is the “right of survivorship.” This means that when one joint tenant dies, the other tenant automatically and immediately becomes the owner of the deceased tenant’s portion of the property. The property does not become a part of the deceased tenant’s estate. Joint tenancy ownership is identical to community property ownership or tenancy by the entirety ownership, which are terms used when the owners are married. While this form of ownership is almost always appropriate between a husband and a wife, there are substantial problems that can arise when a child or other person is named as a joint tenant. In some instances, the child or other person’s creditors may attempt to attach all of the property in a collection proceeding. Often a parent will add one child as joint tenant to property, thinking that this will avoid probate and enable the child to simply split the property with his or her siblings once the parent has passed. However, this unintentionally disinherits the other children and beneficiaries from the property and can also subject the beneficiaries to gift tax complications. Before joint tenancy ownership is ever used as an estate planning device to bypass probate or for any other purpose the advice of an attorney should be sought.