- For Attorneys
The answer to your question may depend on how the property was conveyed in the will. You should carefully review the language in the will to determine the type of tenancy conveyed.
Tenants in common hold title to real or personal property so that each has an "undivided interest" in the property and all have an equal right to use the property. Tenants in common each own a portion of the property, which may be unequal, but have the right to possess the entire property. There is no "right of survivorship" if one of the tenants in common dies, and each interest may be separately sold, mortgaged or willed to another.
Joint tenancy is a form of ownership by two or more individuals together. It 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. 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. Each joint tenant 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. The right of survivorship can be eliminated by ending the joint tenancy before a tenant's death through a process called "severance". Severance means that the joint tenants disrupt the unity of their interests in the property through mutual agreement or unilateral action so that they become tenants in common instead of joint tenants. A joint tenant may convey his or her interest to a third party, depending on applicable state law. This conversion would in effect terminate the joint tenancy and create a tenancy in common.
Generally, co-owners of property have the same rights and obligations regarding contributing to the costs of owning the property, including payment of taxes, unless such rights and obligations have been modified through an agreement. Such rights and obligations may not include some types of repair and/or improvements to the property. Co-owners may choose to enforce an equitable lien to recover such contributions by petitioning a court to partition the property. An action for partition usually arises when 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.