There are two different ways in which you can jointly own a property. Only one type of ownership allows you to leave your share of your home to someone in your Will.
If you and your spouse or partner own your property as joint tenants, then on the death of either of you, the property automatically passes to the survivor. Even if you leave all of your estate to someone else in your Will, a property owned by you as a joint tenant will become solely owned by the other joint tenant. If other joint owner is not a spouse or civil partner to the deceased then there could be Inheritance Tax to pay (depending on the value of the property) which the joint owner would be liable for.
If you hold your property with someone else as tenants in common, then your share of that property passes in accordance with your Will. If you don’t have a Will, then it will be subject to the rules of intestacy, which specify which of your relatives will inherit your estate.
This means that if a tenant in common dies, the surviving owner may be forced to leave the home if the person who inherits the other share wishes to sell.
It is always preferable to write a Will, whether or not you own a property, to ensure that your estate passes to those whom you would wish to benefit from it. If you do own a property jointly with someone else, think about what you want to happen after your death.
If you would like to leave your share to someone else, but you currently hold the home as joint tenants, it is possible to sever the tenancy so that ownership becomes as tenants in common. When you own a property in this way, it is also possible to hold unequal shares, for example one-quarter owned by one person and three-quarters by another. This needs to be put in writing at the time the tenancy is created. You can also put details of how you will agree any sale of the property into this document.
If you want your spouse or partner to live in the home after your death, but don’t want to give them your share of the property outright, your Will can give them a life interest in the home. This would give them the right to live in the property for as long as they want, but ultimately the house would pass to your choice of beneficiary.
This prevents the ‘sideways disinheritance’ trap, where a second spouse could choose to leave the property to their children, excluding the children of the first marriage.
If you would like to talk to one of our property experts or Will writers, ring us on 01276 415835/6/7.