Terminating a Joint Tenancy

Authored by , LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

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What Is a Joint Tenancy?

A joint tenancy is a form of joint possession of real property.  Joint tenancy is similar to tenancy in common in that certain rights and duties come with joint tenancy, but joint tenancy includes a right of survivorship.  A right of survivorship means that if a joint tenant dies, their interest in the land passes to the other joint tenant(s).  The surviving joint tenant(s) have a right to the whole estate. Thus, when a joint tenant dies, they may not pass their share on to their heirs.  Joint tenants are entitled to possess and use the entire property, even though they only own a share of it. 

In order for a joint tenancy to exist, four conditions, or unities, must be met:

If any one of the four unities has not been met, or if it is unclear whether a joint tenancy has been formed, most courts will presume that the more favored tenancy in common has been formed.

How Can I Terminate My Joint Tenancy?

In order to terminate a joint tenancy, one of the four unities must be destroyed.  You may do this by conveying your joint tenancy interest to any third person.  This can be done through gift or sale.  Upon termination, a tenancy in common is formed between the third person and the remaining co-tenant(s).  A joint tenant may transfer their interest unilaterally and without the knowledge or consent of the co-tenant(s). 

If you want to terminate your joint tenancy, and still retain an interest in the property, you have a few options.  

What Is the Benefit of Terminating My Joint Tenancy and Creating a Tenancy in Common?

The advantage to terminating your joint tenancy and forming a tenancy in common is that your heirs will receive your share of the property when you die.  By taking this step, you ensure that your share of the property goes to your heirs rather than to your co-tenants.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Terminate My Joint Tenancy?

An experienced property attorney will be able to help you choose which way to terminate your joint tenancy and guide you through the process in order to ensure that your interest in the property remains protected.  A probate attorney would also be useful in helping you set up a will or trust to devise your property interest to your beneficiaries. 

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Last Modified: 11-13-2013 10:53 AM PST

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