This is the fourth episode of our new video series covering the right of survivorship among co-owners.

The prior episode covers the traditional conveyance of four unities under a joint tenancy vesting.

Taking title “as joint tenants”

A joint tenancy ownership in real estate may be created by any of the following transfers when the conveyance states the co-owners take title “as joint tenants”:

  • a transfer by grant deed, quitclaim deed or assignment, from an owner of the fee, leasehold or life estate, to themselves and others;
  • a transfer from co-owners vested as tenants-in-common to themselves; or
  • a transfer from a married couple holding title as community property, tenants-in-common or separately, to themselves.

For the small percentage of joint tenants who are not a married couple, typically family members or life-long friends, a valid joint tenancy is created when all co-owners take title under the same deed as joint tenants, without stating their fractional ownership interest in the property.

Their actual fraction of ownership, when severed or transferred to others, is a function of the number of individuals who took title as joint tenants. For example, five co-owners as joint tenants each hold a one-fifth or 20% fractional ownership interest.

A joint tenancy vesting adds nothing to the legal aspects of the ownership interest held in real estate by each co-owner. Whether the interests held by the co-owners are separate property or community property, a joint tenancy vesting neither enlarges nor reduces the nature of the ownership interest.

However, the necessary incident of a joint tenancy vesting is the right of survivorship, legally referred to as jus accrescendi. The right of survivorship is a case law doctrine which is triggered by the death of one joint tenant.

Thus, the joint tenancy vesting, by the incident of its right of survivorship, becomes operative only on the death of a joint tenant, at which point the right of survivorship extinguishes the deceased’s interest and leaves the remaining joint tenant(s) with the entire ownership interest they held as joint tenants. The right of survivorship is a mere expectancy held by each co-owner and is not a property right.

Ultimately, on the death of all other joint tenants, the last survivor becomes the sole owner of the interest in the property originally owned by all the joint tenants.

Editor’s note – Stay tuned for further coverage on this topic.