Tenants in common (and wills)
There are two ways you can jointly own a property with other people. But only one lets you choose who inherits your share of it in your will. And that’s when you’re tenants in common.
You might think that when you own a property with others, you can then decide who your share goes to in your will. In fact, it completely depends on how you set up your ownership.
The two types of joint ownership
You could be ‘joint tenants’ or ‘tenants in common’. The difference is really about how much of the property you own.
If you’re joint tenants, you equally own 100% of your property. When one of you dies, that ownership automatically passes to the surviving tenant(s), never mind what your will might say.
If you’re tenants in common you each own a separate, fixed percentage of the property. If the other owner is your spouse or civil partner it’s usually set at 50% each. When you die, you can pass your share on to the people or organisations you’ve listed in your will.
How to find out which kind of tenant you are
When you first became joint owners, your conveyancer will have put your details on record at the Land Registry and added them to the property’s Title Deeds.
You can get these documents checked as part of a will-writing service.
Why you might want to become tenants in common
There are several reasons why it could make sense to change your tenancy. The most obvious one is that you’ll be able to leave your share to different people or organisations in your will.
But it also lets you protect your share by putting it into a trust. That means you can arrange for a civil partner or spouse to stay in the property as long as they live, then pass your share on to others after their death, like your children or grandchildren. It can also help to keep your share from being used to pay care home fees, for example.
How to make the change
Hopefully the other owner(s) will want to change their tenancy as well. You can go ahead without them agreeing, but you’ll have to tell them in writing. A solicitor or conveyancer can help with this letter, and with gathering forms and getting the documents off to the Land Registry.
Once that’s done, you’re free to write your will how you want – and make sure your share of the property ends up in the right place.
In a nutshell
You’ve got a lot more control over what happens to your share of a property when you’re a tenant in common. You’re free to leave that share to whoever you like in your will. And you can keep it protected in a trust for as long your civil partner or spouse lives. You can generally get your tenancy changed and your trust set up as part of a will-writing service.