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What is a Joint Tenancy with Rights of Survivorship?

A joint tenancy with a right of survivorship is a method for holding title to real property used when you want your joint tenant to have your share should you pass away. Conversely, if the other joint tenant dies, then you would take his/her interest automatically at that time. A joint tenancy can consist of two or more persons holding title to property.

How to Create a Joint Tenancy with Rights of Survivorship?

Simply deeding property into all of your names is not sufficient. For instance, if the grantee (the owners) listed on the deed are “Tom Beckett, Jack Shelley, and Nancy Davis”, then that does not create a joint tenancy with right of survivorship. In some states a joint tenancy with rights of survivorship can be created simply by using “or” between the owners’ names, i.e. “Tom Beckett, Jack Shelley, or Nancy Davis”.  There are arguments that using the “or” method is sufficient in Tennessee, however, I do not endorse that practice. Rather, where clients wish to create a joint tenancy with right of survivorship I spell it out explicitly so the grantees are listed as follows, “Tom Beckett, Jack Shelley, and Nancy Davis, as joint tenants with rights of survivorship”.

What Are Your Rights with a Joint Tenancy with Rights of Survivorship?

Joint tenants share all of the same rights in the land as a tenant in common (read more about tenants in common and their property rights here), but joint tenants have the additional right of survivorship. How does that work? Let’s assume Tom Beckett, using our names from above, dies suddenly. His interest automatically vest in Jack Shelley and Nancy Davis. No last will and testament is necessary and no probate of Tom Beckett’s estate is required. You are not even required to record an updated deed at that time. Title vests in the surviving owners’ names by operation of law. That said, if Jack and Nancy later decide to sell the land, they will need to show proof that Tom is deceased in order to give clear title to any successor owner. Typically bringing an original death certificate for Tom is sufficient for that purpose.

Carrying forward the example, let’s assume that soon after Tom dies, Nancy also passes away. What happens then? At that point, Jack, as the lone survivor, becomes the sole owner of the property. He is no longer a joint-tenant and there are no more survivorship rights held by others.  Jack may sell the property, leave it to an heir or beneficiary in a last will and testament, or otherwise dispose of the property.


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