A type of ownership of real orpersonal propertyby two or more persons in which each owns an undivided interest in the whole.
In estate law, joint tenancy is a special form of ownership by two or more persons of the same property. The individuals, who are called joint tenants, share equal ownership of the property and have the equal, undivided right to keep or dispose of the property. Joint tenancy creates a right of survivorship. This right provides that if any one of the joint tenants dies, the remainder of the property is transferred to the survivors. Descended from common-law tradition, joint tenancy is closely related to two other forms of concurrent property ownership: tenancy in common, a less restrictive form of ownership that sometimes results when joint tenancies cease to exist, and tenancy by the entirety, a special form of joint tenancy for married couples.
Joint tenants usually share ownership of land, but the property may instead be money or other items. Four main features mark this type of ownership: (1) The joint tenants own an undivided interest in the property as a whole; each share is equal, and no one joint tenant can ever have a larger share. (2) The estates of the joint tenants are vested (meaning fixed and unalterable by any condition) for exactly the same period of time—in this case, the tenants' lifetime. (3) The joint tenants hold their property under the same title. (4) The joint tenants all enjoy the same rights until one of them dies. Under the right of survivorship, the death of one joint tenant automatically transfers the remainder of the property in equal parts to the survivors. When only one joint tenant is left alive, he or she receives the entire estate.
If the joint tenants mutually agree to sell the property, they must equally divide the proceeds of the sale. Because disagreement over the disposition of property is common, courts sometimes intervene to divide the property equally among the owners. If one joint tenant decides to convey her or his interest in the property to a new owner, the joint tenancy is broken and the new owner has a tenancy in common.
Tenancy in common is a form of concurrent ownership that can be created by deed, will, or operation of law. Several features distinguish it from joint tenancy: A tenant in common may have a larger share of property than the other tenants. The tenant is also free to dispose of his or her share without the restrictive conditions placed on a joint tenancy. Unlike joint tenancy, tenancy in common has no right of survivorship. Thus, no other tenant in common is entitled to receive a share of the property upon a tenant in common's death; instead, the property goes to the deceased's heirs.
Tenancy by the entirety is a form of joint tenancy that is available only to a husband and wife. It can be created only by will or by deed. As a form of joint tenancy that also creates a right of survivorship, it allows the property to pass automatically to the surviving spouse when a spouse dies. 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 event of divorce, the tenancy by the entirety becomes a tenancy in common, and the right of survivorship is lost.