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The Ownership of Assets in the Event of Death


Posted on 28 Feb 2017

Do You Own Assets with Another Person? Do you know how the ownership of those assets would pass in the event of either death?

Most people expect that even where they own title to assets jointly with another person, each person is able to leave their share of that asset to their chosen beneficiaries under the terms of their respective Wills; however that is not always the case. The term ‘assets’ has a wide and varied meaning and can mean a home, a second property, a piece of land, a business asset or even a joint investment such as a shareholding or bank account.

Perhaps, for example, you inherit an asset under a person’s Will but you inherit it alongside the deceased’s other family or friends. You may expect that you can then leave your share of that asset to your own beneficiaries under the terms of your Will – but that would depend on whether ownership was held as joint tenants or tenants in common.

The word ‘tenants’ in this instance even applies to buildings and is simply an archaic way of describing ownership.

Joint tenants vs tenants in common
Say three people (for example) were to own a property as Joint tenants; each of the three owners would be entitled to 100% of the property title. This means that joint owners do not hold an identifiable share of property title and are instead entitled to the property in its entirety. Thus, on the death of one joint owner, the remaining two retain 100% of the property title so that no ‘share’ passes into the deceased owner’s estate. The last surviving joint owner would have sole ownership of 100% property title.

If however, three people were to own a property as tenants in common then each of the three owners would hold an identifiable share of the title. This could either mean they each hold an equal share or, perhaps if one person contributed more towards the purchase price or renovations, they could hold a share of the title proportionately. Thus on the death of any owner, their identifiable share of the property passes to their own beneficiaries under the terms of their Will or Intestacy.

Of course, it is usually a good thing to be able to leave your share of any asset to your chosen beneficiaries but it is not without complications. If all three original owners left their shares to another three beneficiaries the number of people entitled to the equity in the property rises. As does the number of people entitled to live in the property! And what if any of the beneficiaries were minors at the time they inherited?

There are benefits to owning as tenants in common however, such as the ability to estate plan or protect a share of the property from future marriages or financial assessments. So it is important to make an informed decision and deal with property title in accordance with your wishes and intentions.

It is usually prudent to consider property ownership as part of your estate planning by also updating your Wills to take account of your estate’s tax position and need for asset protection, as well as other services.


By Jennifer Howell – Based in our Tattenhall offices, Jennifer is a member of our Wills Trusts and Estates Department. Jennifer specialises in all aspects of private client matters including Wills, Inheritance Tax, Lasting Powers of Attorney, Estate Administration (Probate) Trusts, Care Home Fees, Asset Protection and Court of Protection matters. Jennifer is also an Associate Member of Solicitors for the Elderly. 

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