Is your Relationship Ready for Joint Tenancy? 

Carolynne R. Maguire, Notary Public, MarpoleNotary.com

Nature affords us many examples of home ownership being closely associated with a desire for pair-bonding and/or social structure. Whether a nest, hive, or long-term mortgage, some things just seem better when shared. Owning property with another person or persons can create synergistic opportunities not always available to individuals. With life-savings often hanging in the balance, however, the estate-planning and personal commitment implications of the two main options for multi-party ownership can raise important discussion points. Accordingly, when the question arises as to whether the title be held as “Joint Tenants” or as “Tenants in Common” (or some combination thereof), it is important to understand the differences.

Having very little to do with “tenancy” in the rental sense, the most significant feature of Joint Tenancy is its right of survivorship. Upon the death of a joint tenant, the deceased’s interest in the property is immediately extinguished in favour of the surviving joint tenant(s) and does not form part of the deceased’s estate, thus avoiding Probate and its associated costs and delays. This differs from Tenancy in Common where, upon the death of an owner, the deceased’s interest in the Property will pass to his or her Estate as yet another asset to be distributed under the Will. Other important distinctions are that, unlike Tenancy in Common, Joint Tenancy requires equal interests be taken at the same time on the same document.

Relationships come in many forms and, as with any major investment, it is important that the objectives and expectations of co-owners be understood and agreed upon from the outset. It is generally recommended that discussions involving property ownership preferences take place prior to making an offer to purchase, certainly before title conveyance, and ideally with benefit of professional financial planning. In some cases, side agreements may be advisable to document responsibilities and intentions under a variety of “what-if” scenarios and these may require expertise in Family, Tax, and/or Estates Law.

For a non-spousal couple, partners with children from a previous relationship, parents helping their offspring with a home of their own, or for various others who may or not benefit from a right of survivorship, the decision between Joint Tenancy and Tenancy in Common demands clarity and consensus on their view of the future. For some, this can be a relationship-defining moment!