Forms of Ownership

Let’s start with a quick reminder. Title is ownership.

Title can be held in severalty or as a concurrent estate.

Severalty is sole or independent ownership by a person or entity. That means there is only one name on the deed.

A concurrent estate describes the various ways in which property can be owned by more than one person at a given time.

Three types of concurrent estates are:
1. Tenancy in common
2. Joint tenancy
3. Community property

1. Tenancy in common is the most common type of ownership. Ownership is assumed to be a tenancy in common unless stated otherwise.

A tenancy in common is a form of ownership of title to real estate by two or more persons. Although they have a unity of possession, they each have separate and distinct titles.

In the event that one of the tenants in common dies, his or her title passes not to the other tenant in common, but to his or her estate or heirs.

2. Joint tenancy is a form of ownership in which the tenants own a property equally. If one dies, the other automatically inherits the entire property. This is known as the right of survivorship.

Thus somebody cannot will a joint tenancy, and probate is not necessary under a joint tenancy. A person could not take a property as a joint tenant with a corporation, because a corporation cannot die. It would be taken as a tenant in common.

If a joint tenant dies owing debts, the surviving joint tenants are free of the unsecured debts.

Joint tenants cannot be created by law; therefore the parties who wish to be joint tenants must make it clear in the conveyance document.

A joint tenant has the right to sell, mortgage, or transfer their interest without the consent of the other joint tenants.

To create joint tenancy there has to be unity of time, title, interest, and possession. That is the most important thing to remember. You may want to say it again: time, title, interest, and possession. You can also remember the acronym TTIP. It is not much of a word, but it worked for me, so hopefully it will work for you too! Joint tenancy would be terminated if any one of those four unities is destroyed.

Therefore a person who buys interest of a joint tenant would be a tenant in common with the other joint owners. For example, Stephen, Juan, and Carol purchase a home in the hills, and they take the title as joint tenants. Stephen gets transferred to another state. He sells his property to Angie. Juan and Carol are still joint tenants, and Angie is a tenant in common.

3. Community property is property acquired by the spouses during marriage. Community property laws vary from state to state. Community property is owned by both regardless of whose name is on the title.

Related terms: 

Separate property is sole ownership, and is property acquired before marriage or property received by gift or inheritance. Separate property can be transferred without the non-owning spouse’s consent or signature.

A partition is a court action to divide ownership interest if the owners cannot reach an agreement. Partitions can be used by tenants in common or joint tenants to dissolve ownership interest.