Simply put, the basic difference between two owners of a property being joint tenants and tenants in common is that the first arrangement does not allow someone to leave their share of the property to someone else when they die, even ‘though their will may stipulate this is to happen; upon death, the other owner of the property automatically inherits the deceased’s share, whether or not their will states it should go to someone else. The second arrangement, tenants in common, does allow for someone to leave their share of a property to whomsoever they may wish to. This is why, when you make a will, it is important for you to consider what you want to happen to your share of any property you may jointly own. So how does it work?
If you buy a house or other property with someone else you are not what the law describes as a sole tenant, and are therefore either a joint tenant or a tenant in common. It does not matter whether you buy the property with a mortgage or pay cash for it in total straight away. When the legal process of transferring the property to your name and that of the other owner takes place, the conveyancing process will register you and the other owner in the Land Registry. The Land Registry is the Government department where details of ownership of land and property are recorded.
If you are a joint tenant and you die, the other owner will automatically inherit your share of the property, regardless of what any will you have written may say you want to happen to it.
If you and your co-owner are tenants in common, this means that you both own a share of the property; this does not have to be equal shares, however, and could be split between the owners in amounts of for example, 60% and 40% each.
A severance of tenancy needs to be carried out. This is also known as a deed of severance. This is usually completed by a solicitor and does not change who owns the property. The deed of severance is then sent to the Land Registry who record the tenancy in common. If for some reason your property is not registered with the Land Registry then the Deed of Severance needs to be kept with the deeds to the property, thus ensuring that a proper record is kept of the fact. Your will can then stipulate to whom you want to leave your share upon your death.