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A guide to joint property ownership after death

Home in central London

It’s a known fact that a property, be it a family home or business investment, can be owned by more than one person in what is known as joint ownership. In most cases, married or cohabiting couples will own the home jointly to reflect equal contribution to the mortgage and maintenance costs. However, there are two forms of joint property ownership and it’s important to distinguish between the two, primarily in case one of the partners dies which can subsequently affect said ownership.

What happens after the death of an owner to the property will largely depend upon the type of ownership agreement set out when the property was initially purchased. Here’s a handy guide to joint property ownership and what happens to that property after death:

Joint Tenants vs Tenants in Common – what’s the difference?

First things first, it’s important to know the difference between the two property ownership types. Joint Tenants own all of the property collectively through indivisible shares; a common choice for married or partners that live together. Tenants in Common, on the other hand, each own respective shares which are, not always, but normally equal to one another. If one partner contributes more to the property, for example, in terms of mortgage payments or maintenance costs, they might wish to have a Tenancy in Common agreement.

How do we decide which agreement to go with?

Essentially, the decision is yours and depends on how your property ownership journey will evolve. If one of the couple is expected to contribute more financially, it might be a good idea to investigate the Tenants in Common option so that this increased contribution is recognised. However, some find that approach impersonal and prefer to split everything evenly no matter their financial or personal situation. Most married or cohabiting couples agree to a Joint Tenancy whereas those buying business premises together or who aren’t married may opt for Tenants in Common to ensure everyone’s contribution and share is clear and concise.

What happens if one half of the couple dies?

The most important reason to know the difference between Joint Tenants and Tenants in Common is so that you’re clear on what happens after death. This can complicate matters if you’ve not brushed up on what each agreement means for you personally.

Upon the death of a Joint Tenant, the surviving partner immediately becomes the sole owner of the property. It doesn’t have to be legally changed into that individual’s name but the deceased’s death certificate will need be to shown. This is perhaps the simpler procedure when it comes to death upon property ownership.

For Tenants in Common, the formalities are more extensive. The share of the property that belonged to the deceased tenant becomes part of their estate which is then accordingly dealt with as part of the terms of their Will. Alternatively,  should a Will not exist, the share will be in accordance to any intestacy rules. This means the surviving partner isn’t necessarily guaranteed ownership of the remaining property share and it will be dealt with as part of the Will which, on occasion, can cause complications.

However, it can be a sensible option, especially, as an example, for joint business owners to ensure the deceased’s family and loved ones aren’t left empty-handed after death. If you take on a Tenants in Common agreements and only own part of the property, you can then state in your Will who your half of the property would be left to upon your death. This ultimately means that you have more control over your assets and your loved ones are able to take over that share after you die.

Want to find out more about joint property ownership and how it might affect your Will? Give Flackwoods Solicitors a call on 01403 738777 or email info@flackwoods.co.uk and we’ll be happy to help.

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