Joint Tenancy

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.

This information is not intended to be tax or legal advice, and it may not be relied 
on for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. You are encouraged to seek 
tax or legal advice from an independent professional advisor.