Joint Tenants vs. Tenants in Common: What’s the Difference?

When two or more people own property together, they can do so either as joint tenants or tenants in common. There are key differences between the two arrangements that you should be aware of before deciding which one is right for you.

What Does it Mean to Own Property as Joint Tenants?

With joint tenancy, each of the owners own the entire property together at the same time. There is no undivided share in the property for one of the owners.

This principle holds true regardless of the number of owners – whether there are two owners or eight owners, joint tenancy means that all owners own 100% of the property together.

Generally speaking, joint tenancy is preferred for spouses.

If one of the joint tenants dies, their interest in the property passes to the surviving tenant or tenants. This is known as the “right of survivorship” and continues until there is only one surviving tenant remaining.

Example 1 of How Joint Tenancy Works

Lucy and Oliver were married and purchased a property together as joint tenants. They each own an undivided share in the property. In other words, Lucy and Oliver together own 100% of the property.

Unfortunately, Lucy recently passed away. Lucy’s share of the property does not become a part of her estate. Rather, Lucy’s interest in the property passes to Oliver due to the right of survivorship.

Example 2 of How Joint Tenancy Works

Mark and Stephanie are a married couple who decide to purchase a property with their three adult children under joint tenancy. This means that all five individuals are on title and have an undivided interest in the property.

They chose this arrangement so that when any of the five of them pass away, the interest in the property will belong to the remaining owners.

Many people consider holding property by way of joint tenancy for tax reasons and to potentially avoid the process of probate and associated fees. In the above example, probate would be required every time one of the five of them passed away if not for the right of survivorship. Instead, the interest in the property is automatically passed to the remaining owners.

What Does it Mean to Own Property as Tenants-in-Common?

Tenants-in-common each own a separate and distinct share of the property. This means that each person can dispose of their interest as they see fit, including selling the interest, gifting it, or leaving it to someone in their will. Ownership as tenants-in-common is generally preferred for blended families and other unique arrangements (like a shared vacation home).

Tenants-in-common may own different proportionate shares of the property. For example, 25% and 75%; or 50% and 50%. This can be a great way for friends or family members to pool their resources and purchase a property they might not otherwise be able to afford.

Whereas joint tenants have the right of survivorship, tenants-in-common do not. So, if one tenant in common dies, that person’s share of the property becomes a part of the deceased’s estate.

Example of How Tenancy-in-Common Works

Melanie and Nicole have been best friends for years, so they decided to purchase a vacation home together. They found the perfect place and after some negotiation, they agreed on a purchase price of $600,000. Melanie paid $450,000 and Nicole paid the remaining $150,000. Accordingly, Melanie owned a 75% share of the property and Nicole owned a 25% share of the property as tenants-in-common.

Although Melanie paid more and owns a larger share of the property, they both have an equal right to use and enjoy the entire home.

If Nicole were to pass away, her share of the property would not automatically pass to Melanie. Instead, Nicole’s share in the property would become a part of Nicole’s estate.

The Benefits and Drawbacks of Each Ownership Structure

There are advantages and disadvantages to joint tenancies and tenancy-in-common arrangements, and it is important to consider the implications of each.

Joint Tenancy

When it comes to estate planning, joint tenancy can be a helpful tool because of the right of survivorship.

The right of survivorship can be helpful in many ways. First, it simplifies the administration of an estate by avoiding the need for a lengthy and expensive probate process. Second, it minimizes probate fees by allowing the property to pass directly to the surviving tenant. Third, it can avoid capital gains and property transfer tax. Finally, it ensures that the property passes to the intended person, without the risk of the transfer being contested by other family members.

While this arrangement may seem ideal for couples or other close family members, there are some potential disadvantages to consider.

Property held in joint tenancy is subject to any adverse circumstances affecting the other joint tenant. In some scenarios, one of the joint tenant’s creditors might force a sale of the property, exposing the other joint tenants to such risks even if they did not benefit from the debt of the other joint tenant.

Additionally, if the relationship between the joint tenants is unstable, joint decisions with respect to the property can become challenging or reach an impasse, leading to difficult and expensive conflicts.


Tenants-in-common can own equal or different proportions of a property, which can be advantageous for owners who make different financial contributions to the purchase of the property.

The main disadvantage of tenants-in-common is that the right of survivorship is not applicable. This means that upon the death of one of the owners, the transfer of ownership of their interest will be subject to the probate process and probate fees.

Which Ownership Option Suits You?

The structure of ownership has significant implications for the rights and responsibilities of the owners of a property, so it is important to choose the right option for your situation. If you’re not sure which ownership structure is right for you, a real estate lawyer can advise you on your options. Give us a call today!

Disclaimer – The information contained herein is of a general nature. It is not intended to be legal advice and it is not intended to address the exact circumstances of any particular individual or entity. No one should rely on or act upon such information without receiving appropriate professional advice and without a thorough examination of their particular situation. Please contact our office if you have any questions with respect to the content of this entry, this website, or our Terms and Conditions .