There are only three ways to own property - in your individual name, in joint names with others, or by contract rights. Here is a summary of what each type of ownership means for you and your family.
Individual ownership refers to property that's owned in your sole name without any other owners or a beneficiary designation. When you die, property owned in your individual name will usually have to be probated to get it out of your name and into the names of your loved ones.
Joint ownership comes in several different forms:
- Joint tenancy with right of survivorship - With this type of ownership, all of the owners hold an equal right to the property. In other words, any owner can withdraw the funds from an account without the knowledge or permission of the other owners. However, with jointly owned real estate, in most states the property can't be sold or mortgaged without the consent of all of the owners. When one joint owner dies, ownership of the property automatically vests in the surviving joint tenants without the need for probate. Abbreviated as JTWROS or JT TEN.
- Tenancy by the entirety - This is a type of joint ownership with rights of survivorship that's recognized in some states and can only exist between a husband and wife. Either spouse can withdraw the funds from an account without the knowledge or permission of the other spouse. However, with real estate, in most states the property can't be sold or mortgaged without the consent of both spouses. When one spouse dies, ownership of the property automatically vests in the surviving spouse without the need for probate. Abbreviated as TBE.
- Community property - This is a type of joint ownership that's recognized in some states and can only exist between a husband and wife. Each spouse's ownership rights in community property are set by specific state laws.
- Tenancy in common - With this type of joint ownership, each individual "tenant in common" owns a specific percentage of the property and can withdraw, mortgage, or sell his or her own separate piece of the property. When a tenant in common dies, his or her share of the property passes to his or her own beneficiaries and not to the surviving tenants in common. Abbreviated as TIC or TEN COM.
Title by Contract
Title by contract covers payable on death (POD), transfer on death (TOD), and in trust for (or ITF) accounts; Totten trusts; life insurance; retirement accounts including IRAs and 401(k)s; annuities; life estates; and Revocable Living Trusts. The owner of the property has full control of it during life (with the exception of life estates - check applicable state law), but then after death the property passes outside of probate to the beneficiaries designated by the owner.