What does it mean to own property as a Tenant in Common?

There are two different ways people can own property in England and Wales, as either Joint Tenants or Tenants in Common. Whilst this distinction makes little difference to the day-to-day occupation and use of the property, the way in which a couple own it does have a significant impact on what would happen in the event of the death of one of the owners. 

If a property is owned as Joint Tenants, neither owner has a distinct share in the property and if one of them were to die, the other would automatically inherit the whole property regardless of any provision in the deceased person’s Will.  This is known as the Right of Survivorship. 

Whereas if a property is owned as Tenants in Common, each owner has a distinct share and on death, that share can pass in accordance with their Will (or if they did not leave a Will, the intestacy rules). People may prefer to own distinct shares if they have made unequal contributions to the purchase price, or they want the power to determine who inherits their property share in the future. 

It is not possible for the legal title of the property to be split into distinct shares - so the percentage that each person owns will be reflected in the equity of the property (known as the equitable title). The shares in the property can be equal or unequal depending on the property. 

If you originally owned a property as a Joint Tenant, it is possible to sever your Joint Tenancy to become a Tenancy in Common. After severing a Joint Tenancy, each party will be Tenants in Common and can leave their shares in a Will.  However, severance cannot occur on death, so if a party has already died then severance will not be possible. 

If you would like any further information or advice in relation to buying or selling a property, please contact our specialist residential conveyancing lawyers: Karen Grimshaw on 01902 796934 (kgrimshaw@georgegreen.co.uk) or Nabjit Dubb on 01902 328358 (Ndubb@georgegreen.co.uk) at our Wolverhampton office;   or Kevin Gilbert on 01384 340 561 (Kgilbert@georgegreen,co.uk) at our Cradley Heath office.