Home Ownership and Estate Planning

Do you know your home ownership type?  If not, you should, as it impacts your will and your estate plan.  It is stated on your deed and often within your property tax records.  The four most common forms of home ownership are:

Sole Ownership/Fee Simple:

Ownership of property by one person; People who own property in a fee simple form may sell it, rent it out, transfer it to their heirs, and even limit its use in the future.

Tenancy in Common: 

In a title held as a tenancy in common, each owner has an undivided interest in the entire property. Each tenant has the right to possession of the whole property. There is no right of survivorship. If one tenant in common dies, that tenant’s interest in the property will be part the estate and pass by inheritance to the heirs rather than to the other tenant.  There is a presumption that a conveyance to two or more persons is a tenancy in common if it is not otherwise stated.

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Tenancy by the Entirety:

A co-ownership available only to a husband and wife in which if a house is to be sold or refinanced both parties must agree beforehand. Should one spouse die, the house/property goes to the surviving spouse automatically.  In addition, tenancy by the entirety protects a spouse’s interest in the property from the other spouse’s creditors. It differs from joint tenancy in one major respect: neither party can voluntarily dispose of her or his interest in the property. In the case of Divorce, the tenancy by the entirety becomes a tenancy in common, and the right of survivorship is lost.

Many found that this ownership form is rooted in the common-law theory that a husband and wife are one single legal entity.  Many states have eliminated this form of ownership, believing that it is inconsistent with today’s view of women.

Joint Tenancy:

Joint tenancy is an equal undivided ownership of property by two or more people. During their lifetimes, any of the owners may sell their interests to whomever they choose. If property is owned in joint tenancy, the surviving joint tenant will receive the deceased joint tenant’s interest in the property, regardless of what that person’s will or trust says about the property.

As you can see, the type of ownership can not only impact your will and estate plan, but also the tax burden on your estate.  As tax laws evolve and financial status changes, it’s important to review home ownership, wills and estate plans and keep them up to date and consistent with your goals.

For more information on joint tenancy or estate planning, go to our workshop page to register for one of our upcoming estate planning workshops.