Troubleshooting Legal Problems

Joint tenancy and probate

Probate is the process of distributing assets after someone dies. There are various ways to avoid probate or limit what assets go through the process at all. But it is often a crucial part of the process. 

Joint tenancy, meanwhile, indicates that two people are equal owners of the same property. For example, perhaps two people buy a home together and they both equally own that house. They don’t split it up in any way, but both share the entire house and all of the responsibilities that go along with it. 

What does this mean for probate?

Generally, when one person passes away, the assets that they owned go to their beneficiaries. As noted above, this is often done during probate. But, with joint ownership, the probate process can be skipped for that asset. The surviving owner instantly becomes the sole owner. No further estate planning is needed for that asset. 

For example, imagine that a man and a woman own a home together. The man has two heirs, but the woman has none. The man passes away before the woman. If she only owned half of the house, the other 50% would get split between those two heirs, giving them each 25%. Under joint tenancy, though, they will not get anything at that time, and the woman will own 100% of the house. 

It is worth noting that the asset may still go through probate eventually when the woman in that example also passes away. It just won’t happen immediately after the man’s passing. 

Where do you stand?

Those involved in either the estate planning process or the distribution of someone’s estate need to know exactly where they stand and what legal steps to take, especially with major assets — like homes — that have substantial value. Working with an experienced attorney is wise.