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

The prior episode covers avoiding probate procedures through proper vesting.

Unity of title, time, interest and possession

Although most joint tenancies are created between a married couple, a joint tenancy can exist between non-married persons. Conversely, community property vestings are only available to married couples or registered domestic partners.

Additionally, the number of joint tenants is not limited to two, as is a married couple’s ownership of community property interests. Using one deed, any number of co-owners can take title to real estate as joint tenants. The only ownership condition is that the joint tenants take equal ownership interests in the property.

Traditionally, the creation of a joint tenancy requires the conveyance of four unities:

  • unity of title, meaning the joint tenants take title to the real estate through the same instrument, such as a single grant deed or court order;
  • unity of time, meaning the joint tenants receive their interest in title at the same time;
  • unity of interest, meaning the joint tenants own equal shares in the ownership of the property; and
  • unity of possession, meaning each joint tenant has the right to possess the entire property.

Today, a joint tenancy vesting is loosely based on these four unities. For example, a joint tenancy is currently defined as ownership in equal shares by two or more persons. Thus, the joint tenancy co-ownership incorporates the unity of interest into its statutory definition.

Similarly, a joint tenancy needs to be created by a single transfer to all the co-owners who are to become joint tenants. Thus, the historic unity of title (same deed) and unity of time (simultaneous transfers) required under common law have been retained in one event. Typically, this is accomplished by the recording of a conveyance transferring title to all the joint tenants.

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