Common Forms of Property Ownership

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Written by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer Jeffrey Johnson

UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Common forms of property ownership include the following:

Joint Tenancy: Property is owned by two or more persons at the same time in equal shares. Unity of time, title, interest, and possession is vested in each joint tenant (four unities). Each joint tenant has an undivided right to possess the whole property and a proportionate right of equal ownership interest. When one joint tenant dies, his/her interest automatically vests in the surviving joint tenant(s) by operation of law. Words in the deed such as “John and Mary, as joint tenants with right of survivorship and not as tenants in common”, establishes title in joint tenancy. Some states do not allow this form of property ownership.

Tenancy in the Entirety: Some states have a special form of joint tenancy when the joint tenants are husband and wife, with each owning a one-half interest. Neither spouse can sell the property without the consent of the other. Words in the deed such as “John and Mary, husband and wife as tenancy in the entirety”, establishes title in tenancy by the entireties.

Sole Ownership: Property is owned entirely by one person. Words in the deed such as “John, a single man”, establishes title as sole ownership.

Tenants in Common: Property is owned by two or more persons at the same time. The proportionate interests and right to possess and enjoy the property between the tenants in common need not be equal. Upon death, the decedent’ s interest passes to his/her heirs named in the will, who then become new tenants in common with the surviving tenants in common. None of the tenants in common automatically receives the share of the decedent. There is no right of survivorship as with joint tenants. The words in the deed such as “Peter, Paul, John and Mary as tenants in common”, establishes tenancy in common.

Community Property: In states that recognize community property, a special form of joint tenancy exists between husband and wife, with each owning a one-half interest. Upon death, the decedent’s interest passes in a manner similar to tenants in common. Words in the deed such as “John and Mary, husband and wife as community property”, establishes community property ownership.

The above ways for owning real property are all present interests and rights of the owner. Future interests can also exist, which come into effect in the future. Typically, future interests are based upon the occurrence of a contingency, such as someone dies and the decedent’s interest in the property passes in accordance with his/her last will or trust.

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