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Joint Tenancy vs. Tenancy in Common

Mark Pierce

By Mark Pierce, Esq.


There are a number of reasons why you might decide to purchase property with someone else or even a group of people. If you’re entering into this sort of property ownership arrangement, you’ll first have to decide the manner in which owners will hold title to the property.

When you have an ownership arrangement with two or more people, each person involved will own a share of the property. Owning shares of a property with others does not mean that each person owns a specific part of the property but rather that each person shares in the ownership of the entire property.

Two of the most common ways people can own property together are joint tenancy and tenants in common. Either option will allow you to establish joint ownership, but some important differences exist between the two. We’ll cover those differences here to give you a sense of which ownership option might work best for you.

What Is Joint Tenancy?

Joint tenancy is the most common form of ownership used by married couples, as it generally determines that both individuals own the property entirely without any divided interest. Joint tenants must hold an equal amount of property shares (proportionate to the number of owners involved) and must obtain those shares at the same time.

With joint tenancy, if one of the owners passes away, the remaining owners inherit the deceased’s interest in the property. This is known as the “rights of survivorship” clause, which ensures that the property avoids probate court and passes directly to the other owners.

Additionally, in the case of joint tenancy, the estate tax on the property is delayed when passed to another owner. For example, if the owners were a married couple, the property would transfer to the spouse in the event of a death. Later, when the other spouse passes away and leaves the property to children, the estate tax would then be applied.

Note that with joint tenancy and its equally divided ownership share in the property, one owner cannot simply sell their interest. An owner must have the consent of all the owners for this to occur. In the event that one owner sells their interest, the joint tenancy is converted into a tenancy in common.

What Is Tenancy in Common?

Tenancy in common is a real estate ownership arrangement between two or more people in which each owner has a distinct interest in the property. Tenancy in common can be created by a deed that transfers ownership interest from a previous owner to the new owners, or new owners can inherit or purchase ownership shares from previous owners at varying times.

Unlike with a joint tenancy that requires equal ownership, tenancy in common allows for each owner to have a different percentage of ownership in the property. Additionally, ownership interest in the property can be obtained at different times, even years after the original owners.

Similar to joint tenancy, owners cannot claim specific parts or aspects of the property, as their percentage of ownership interest pertains to the property as a whole. Owners only have the right to their own interest in the property. For example, in the event that something happened to an owner, their interest in the property would pass on to their heirs. It would not be passed on to the other owners.

Tenancy in common allows for owners to sell their ownership interest in the property at any point, without requiring the consent of the other owners. Similarly, owners have the option to mortgage or transfer their interest in the property.

Differences Between
Joint Tenancy and Tenancy in Common

As you can tell from above, joint tenants and tenants in common have many similarities, but it’s important to note the key differences between them. One of the main differences between the two is how each handles the right of survivorship.

In the event that an owner dies, what happens to their ownership interest in the property is handled differently between joint tenancy and tenancy in common. With joint tenancy, the interest of the deceased owner is transferred to the other owner(s).

On the other hand, with tenancy in common, the remaining owners do not have rights of survivorship. In other words, the ownership interest is passed on to the specified heirs of the deceased. Note, however, that the remaining owner(s) could receive the ownership interest in the event that this is specified in the deceased’s will.

This method can be useful for property owners that are unrelated, as it allows the owner to determine who will inherit their share of the property. Note, however, that it may have to go through probate court. But so long as you have clearly stated your wishes, then there shouldn’t be any problems.

Joint Tenancy vs. Tenancy
in Common: Closing Thoughts

Whether you’re looking to purchase property with a spouse, family member, friend, or business partner, it’s important that you determine how you’re going to title your property. Either choice, joint tenancy or tenancy in common, will come with important implications that should be understood by everyone with ownership shares in the property.

While a joint tenancy does not require a separate agreement on the deed, tenants in common should get ownership agreements in writing, along with any other information pertinent to your specific situation.

Most importantly, however, is understanding that real estate decisions, such as these, can carry huge financial implications. Before you go ahead and make any final ownership decisions, it’s wise to seek the advice of an attorney. Professional advice from an attorney will not only ensure you’re handling matters correctly but help to ensure you’re making the best decisions for your future and financial well-being.