Living Together? Own Property as Joint Tenants

By Jason Beahm on March 04, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Before you buy property with your unmarried partner, it's important to consider how you want to own it. Many unmarried couples fail to consider how the property will be divided if the relationship doesn't work out. That's a mistake, because the law will treat an unmarried couple as if they are separate legal entities, which differs from when a couple is married.

Therefore, if you are going to buy a home, owning it as joint tenants, or tenants-in-common are smart options. But what are the differences?

A joint tenancy is ownership in which ownership is shared equally. When two or more people own property as joint tenants, and one person dies, the property automatically goes to the other party or parties. It’s a popular option for many reasons, not the least of which is that legally, a joint tenancy is easy to achieve, it only requires a clause referring to a joint tenancy in the title to the property.

By contrast, with tenants-in-common, each owner has a separate share in the property, which the parties are free to determine, typically proportionally. A key difference is that if a co-owner dies, their estate receives the property, which is distributed as determined by will or intestacy laws.

So which option is better? You didn’t really think you were going to get off that easy did you? Every situation is different. For some, joint tenancy is the way to go, while for others, tenants-in-common makes more sense. The important thing is to make these important legal considerations ahead of time, and discuss them with your real estate or family law attorney up front.

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