The difference between ‘joint tenants’ and ‘tenants in common’

When two or more people own property as joint tenants or tenants in common, each individual owns a share in (or interest) of the entire property. This means that specific areas of the property are not owned by any one individual, but rather shared as a whole.

While joint tenants are similar to tenants in common in many ways, particularly the right of possession with to respect to the property, there are some important differences with respect to what happens when a co-owner dies.

As tenants in common you hold an individual undivided ownership interest in the property. This means that each party has the right to alienate or transfer the ownership of his/her ownership interest. This can be done by deed or through a Will.

As joint tenants, neither tenant has the right to alienate without the consent of the other. When a tenant dies, the surviving tenant receives the deceased tenants/spouses interest, thus acquiring full ownership of the property. This is also called right of survivorship.

Another difference between tenants in common and joint tenants is that tenants in common may hold unequal interest. By contrast, joint tenants own equal shares of the property. The different forms of ownership give individuals a choice in the way the co-ownership of property will be carried out. Each type of tenancy is distinguishable from the others by the rights of the co-owners.

It’s important to understand the difference in ownership as it relates to your estate plans. Estate plans can take a turn quickly if ownership is not correctly owned when transferring assets to the next generation. This is one of the first agenda items our department will stress the importance of when planning for your future. Most commonly we see land owned as joint tenants, which may or may not be what you intended within your estate or transition plans. To learn more about the differences and the impact ownership can have when you pass away, please contact our department.

  • Marlene Bradbury
    Consultant - Succession and Retirement Planning