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How a joint tenancy differs from tenants in common

New York residents who are preparing their estate plan may wonder what the difference is between a joint tenancy with survivorship versus a tenancy in common. One of the major differences has to do with the concept of survivorship.

For joint tenants with survivorship, when one of the two individuals dies, their portion of the property passes to the other owner. This is not the case with tenants in common. That person's portion of the property belongs to the person's estate.

In a case where there is joint tenancy with survivorship, each person owns an equal part of the property, and that property must be obtained by both of them at the same time. With tenants in common, people may own different proportions of the property. Furthermore, they may be added at different times. A joint tenancy can be ended when one owner sells its share. A tenants in common arrangement may end in several different ways. One tenant might buy out the others. The property might be sold and the proceeds shared among the former owners. An heir might sell the portion of property inherited.

Understanding who owns and has a right to property is an important aspect of estate planning. However, people should not assume they do not need a will or other estate planning documents because they share their home with a spouse who will automatically inherit it. Adults may want to consider creating an estate plan even if they have few assets because doing so will make distribution of their assets more efficient. Furthermore, in working with an attorney to create an estate plan, some people might find that there are a range of tools available to provide for various scenarios such as creating a trust to help support a relative with special needs.

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