Ownership of a house can take 1 of 3 forms


May 01, 1994|By Michael Gisriel

Q: My husband and I are about to buy a house. We are worried what would happen to the house if one of us dies. How can we take title to protect our interests?

Gross, Towson

A: There are three forms of ownership when more than one person is involved:

* 1. Tenancy in common:

Each individual owner has an undivided interest in the property -- that is, if three people own one-third interest in a property, each owns one-third interest in the entire property. Each owner can sell his interest to another person, or will it to an heir.

Tenants in common may acquire their interests at different times in different ways. They may have unequal interests, but unless otherwise stated, each is presumed to take an equal share.

* 2. Joint tenancy:

Similar to tenancy in common, but with right of survivorship. When one of the owners dies, the surviving owners split the deceased's interest. For example, if there are three owners, each owns a one-third interest in the entire property. When one owner dies, the surviving owners now each have a one-half interest in the property. A joint tenant cannot will his interest to an heir.

Joint tenancies must be created explicitly, and the joint tenants must take title at the same time. Lawyers suggest the phrase "joint tenants with the right of survivorship" in the contract and deed.

* 3. Tenancy by the entirety:

Ownership as tenants by the entireties is similar to joint tenancy, with three differences.

First, the tenants must be husband and wife. Unless stated otherwise, married couples are assumed to take title this way.

Second, neither husband nor wife can sever his or her ownership interest in the property without the consent of the other. One spouse cannot sell or mortgage all or part of the property without the consent of the other spouse.

Third, the ownership interest of either tenant is not subject to claims by the husband's or the wife's individual creditors.

The only way to terminate the co-ownership interest of tenants by the entireties is by the death of either spouse, divorce (in which case the parties remain owners as tenants in common), or mutual agreement.

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