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Joint tenancy is a form of ownership by two or more individuals together that differs from other types of co-ownership in that the surviving joint tenant immediately becomes the owner of the whole property upon the death of the other joint tenant. State law, which varies by state, controls the creation of a joint tenancy in real property. Joint tenancy property passes outside of probate; however, it may be severed so that the property becomes part of one person's estate and passes to that person's heirs. Each joint tenant has an equal, undivided interest in the whole property, and may enter onto, take possession of the whole, occupy, and use every portion of the common property at all times and in all circumstances. All joint tenants, and their spouses, must sign deeds and contracts to transfer or sell real estate.
A joint tenancy can be severed by 1) voluntary conveyance, 2) partition proceedings, 3) involuntary alienation under an execution, or by 4) any other action which operates to sever the joint tenancy. Each tenant has the right to convey his or her separate estate by way of gift or otherwise without the knowledge or consent of the other joint tenant to terminate the joint tenancy.
A partition action is a court action to divide property. An action for partition usually arises when a property is jointly owned and there is a dispute as to how to divide property, or in a dispute as to whether property should be sold. One co-owner of real property can file to get a court order requiring the sale of the property and division of the profits, or division of the land between the co-owners, which is often a practical impossibility. Normally, a partition order provides for an appraisal of the total property, which sets the price for one of the parties to buy out the other's half. The partition statutes govern actions for partition of real property, but the partition statutes do not apply to property divisions under the Family Law Act or in other types of cases specifically governed by other statutes. A partition action may be initiated and maintained by any of a co-owner of personal property; an owner of an estate of inheritance, an estate for life, or an estate for years in real property where such property or estate therein is owned by several persons concurrently or in successive estates. Generally, a partition action may be maintained only by a person having the interest in the property, however, an equitable interest, is sufficient to support a partition action. A 'partition in kind' refers to land partitioned conveniently and equitably between or among the owners. Alternatively, it must be sold as a single parcel and the proceeds divided among the owners. If two or more people who own a property as tenants in common or if people who are not married to each other own a property as joint tenants with right of survivorship develop a dispute concerning the property, any owner may bring a partition action with the court to get the property divided between owners. While the lawsuit is pending, all owners will have equal access to and interest in the property. This arrangement applies regardless of whether the mortgage is in one owner's name or the name of all owners.