• Joint tenancy represents one legal option when two or more people desire to own real property. Its distinct characteristic is the right of survivorship. It is possible for four people to own land as joint tenants as long as certain legal requirements are met. Those requirements are quite specific and any deviation prevents the creation of joint tenancy or dissolves it once it occurs. Joint tenancy requires time, title, interest and possession.

    Right of Survivorship

    Joint tenancy carries with it the right of survivorship: When the first person dies, the other three receive his share. The joint tenancy now has three people. The same process occurs when the second person dies. It continues until one person is left. That one person now owns the entire parcel of real property. The only way to avoid this result is for one or more of the joint tenants to break up the joint tenancy by transferring their share to an outsider.


    Joint tenancy can only be created if the four people obtain their interest at the same time. In other words, if three people own a building, they cannot add a fourth person to the deed and create a joint tenancy. That creates tenancy in common. The three people have two choices to create joint tenancy. One is deed the property to another person and that person would deed the property to the four people. The other choice is for the three people to deed the property to the four people as joint tenancy with right of survivorship.


    The title requirement means joint tenants must receive their interest in the same document, such as a deed or will. If a landowner wants to create a joint tenancy in four persons, he must deed the land in one deed. Giving each person a one-fourth interest in separate deeds will not create a joint tenancy.

    Interest and Possession

    All joint tenants have an equal interest in the real estate and are entitled to possession of the entire property. Each of the four people owns a one-fourth interest which is undivided. For example, if the four own 100 acres, one joint tenant does not own a specific 25 acres. They all own an equal interest in the entire 100 acres.


    Joint tenancy takes away the right to control property through a will. Joint tenants also have to consider the possibility of financial problems for one or more joint tenant. Creditors will attempt to attach property held by joint tenancy even though only one person owes the debt. One person can destroy his joint tenancy by deeding his interest to another person. That creates tenancy in common between the new party and the remaining three joint tenants.

  • A form of concurrent ownership of real property in which two or more persons possess the property simultaneously; it can be created by deed, will, or operation of law.

    Tenancy in Common is a specific type of concurrent, or simultaneous, ownership of real property by two or more parties. Generally, concurrent ownership can take three forms: joint tenancy, tenancy by the entirety, and tenancy in common. These forms of concurrent ownership give individuals a choice in the way that co-ownership of property will be carried out. Each type of tenancy is distinguishable from the others by the rights of the co-owners.

    Usually, the term tenant is understood to describe a person who rents or leases a piece of property. In the context of concurrent estates, however, a tenant is a co-owner of real property.

    All tenants in common hold an individual, undivided ownership interest in the property. This means that each party has the right to alienate, or transfer the ownership of, her ownership interest. This can be done by deed, will, or other conveyance. In a tenancy by the entirety (a concurrent estate between married persons), neither tenant has the right of alienation without out the consent of the other. When a tenant by the entirety dies, the surviving spouse receives the deceased spouse’s interest, thus acquiring full ownership of the property. This is called a Right of Survivorship. Joint tenants also have a right of survivorship. A joint tenant may alienate his property, but if that occurs, the tenancy is changed to a tenancy in common and no tenant has a right of survivorship.

    Another difference between tenants in common and joint tenants or tenants by the entirety is that tenants in common may hold unequal interests. By contrast, joint tenants and tenants by the entirety own equal shares of the property. Furthermore, tenants in common may acquire their interests from different instruments: joint tenants and tenants by the entirety must obtain their interests at the same time and in the same document.

  • If you die without a will, it means you have died “intestate.” When this happens, the intestacy laws of the state where you reside will determine how your property is distributed upon your death. This includes any bank accounts, securities, real estate, and other assets you own at the time of death.

    The laws of intestate succession vary greatly depending on whether you were single or married, or had children. In most cases, your property is distributed in split shares to your “heirs,” which could include your surviving spouse, siblings, aunts and uncles, nieces, nephews, and distant relatives. Generally, when no relatives can be found, the entire estate goes to the state.

    Single With No Children

    If you are single and childless, your parents will receive your entire estate if they are both living. Otherwise it will be divided among your siblings (including half-siblings) and your surviving parent, if one parent has already died.

    If you have no surviving parents at the time of your death, then your entire estate will be divided among siblings, in equal parts.

    If there are no surviving parents, siblings, or descendant’s of siblings (nieces and nephews), then the relatives on your mother’s side would inherit one-half of the estate, with the other one-half passing to the relatives on your father’s side.

    Single With Children

    If you are single and have children, then your entire estate generally will go to your children, in equal shares. If any child has died before you, and that child has any children, then his or her share will go to your grandchildren.

    Married With No Children

    Depending on how your assets are owned when you die, your estate will either go entirely to your surviving spouse (if community property), or split between your surviving spouse, siblings and parents (if separate property). See Who Owns What in Marital Property? for more details.

    Married With Children

    If you are married with children, your entire estate will go to your surviving spouse (if all children are the children of your surviving spouse). Otherwise, your surviving spouse will receive up to one-half of the estate, with the remaining portion passing to your surviving children from another spouse or partner.

    Unmarried Couples

    Dying without a will can be devastating to unmarried couples who are living together. Because intestacy laws only recognize relatives, unmarried couples do not inherit the property of the other partner when one partner dies without a will. Unless there is a will which clearly states a person’s intentions when they die, the decedent’s property will be divided among relatives, depending on their relation to the decedent.

    Domestic Partners

    Special rules apply to domestic partners. Since not all states recognize domestic partnerships, it is important to check the laws of your particular state to learn how property is distributed upon your death. Generally, if you die without a will and are survived by a domestic partner, your domestic partner inherits the same as a surviving spouse, depending on how you owned the property.

    Because state laws vary, it is important to check the estate planning laws of your particular state.

    Don’t Delay: Get a Handle on Your Estate with the Help of an Attorney 

    Since estate planning can be quite complicated, it may be wise to speak with an estate planning attorney in your area to fully understand what may happen in your particular case if you die without a will. An attorney can help you draft a valid will and give you some peace of mind. Get started today and contact a local estate planning attorney.

    Next Steps

    Contact a qualified estate planning attorney to help you ensure that your loved ones are cared for and your wishes are honored.