Many families end up in probate because they miss two simple words on the house deed. Deeds that are missing this critical item are usually a do it yourself real estate dead. It is always recommended that you have professionals draw up your deed so you can be sure it was done right and nothing was overlooked.

The two words are Joint Tennants.

If you live with your spouse and don’t have those words on the deed, you are not living as Joint Tenants, no matter what you think. You’re actually living as Tenants in Common.

What are Joint Tenants

Joint Tenants means persons who hold an estate or property jointly with one or more parties, the share of each passing to the other or others on death. If you are Joint Tenants with your spouse, then the property is owned jointly with the right of survivorship. If one of you dies, then the other one gets the house probate free. No one needs to go to court.

What are Tenants in Common

Tenants in Common are two people who each own half of the house on their own. There is no right of survivorship. If one of them dies, then their half follows their estate plan. Their half of the house will go where it is afforded in the will. But a will is a court document, so even if one party leaves their half of the house to their spouse, the spouse will have to go to court to sort everything out. It would have saved the survivor time and expense if the deed had simply said “Joint Tenants”.

It gets more complicated if there are more beneficiaries, such as children from separate marriages. Then the 50% of the house is going to get split up and the surviving spouse is possibly going to have to buy the 50% of the house just to continue living there.

The death of your loved one is a very difficult time already. Don’t make it more difficult for them or yourself by having poorly prepared legal documents. Do yourself and your partner a favor and make sure your deed says “Joint Tenants.”