What Happens to Jointly Owned Assets When One Co-Owner Dies?

When a loved one dies, you assume that all their property and assets will pass in line with either their Will or the Intestacy Rules but this is not always the case. Some jointly owned assets will automatically pass to the surviving co-owner, regardless of what the Will or Intestacy Rules say.

Firstly we must address what are jointly owned assets. Any asset can be owned by you and another person (or even several other people). The most common examples of this are property, furniture, and bank accounts. This blog will focus on these three types of asset to help give you a better understanding of why certain assets may not pass according to the deceased’s Will or the Intestacy Rules.

Find out more about the Intestacy Rules by reading our article: What Are The Rules of Intestacy?

What Are The Different Types of Joint Ownership?

There are two ways that you can co-own property in England and Wales, these are as:

  • Joint Tenants;
  • Tenants in Common.

Each of the three types of assets named earlier (property, furniture, and bank accounts) has its own rules and presumptions about how it is owned and therefore how it will pass when one co-owner dies.

NOTE: When the term ‘Joint Tenants’ and ‘Tenants in Common’ is used people often assume this is limited to their living arrangements however these terms also extend to the way that other assets, furniture for example, is owned.

Joint Tenants

Put simply, this means that the asset will pass to the surviving co-owner(s) when one owner dies.

It does not matter what the person’s Will says, or what the Intestacy Rules state, the co-owner is absolutely entitled to have the deceased person’s name removed from the asset so that it is entirely theirs.

Tenants in Common

This is more complex and means that each co-owner legally owns a specific share of the asset. You can be tenants in common in equal shares, or unequal shares, depending on your circumstances.

The share of the asset that belongs to the person who has died will pass in accordance with the terms of their Will or the Intestacy Rules and the surviving co-owner will have few rights to change this if they are not happy with the outcome.

What Are The Rules For Jointly Owned Properties?

Have a read of our recent blog, What is the difference between Joint Tenants and Tenants in Common to learn more about these differences.

Be careful! If you do not have a Will, and you are still legally married or in a civil partnership at the date of your death, your ex-partner may still end up receiving the house under the Intestacy Rules as they will still inherit if the divorce or dissolution of the relationship has not been finalised by a Court. You should therefore make sure that you also put a Will in place to ensure your wishes are met in relation to your property.

Picture of a man and woman taking receipt of keys to their new home.

What Are The Rules For Jointly Owned Bank Accounts?

The default position with jointly owned bank accounts is that they are owned as joint tenants.

To avoid the whole balance of the account passing to the surviving co-owner, there must be a clear paper trail to show that both co-owners intended that the account should be held as tenants in common and, if appropriate, what share of the account each owner was entitled to. If this cannot be shown, then the bank or building society will treat the account as being owned as joint tenants and it will go to the surviving co-owner.

Be careful! This can be a pitfall for people who add a family member to their bank account simply so that person can assist with paying bills etc. but never intend that person to inherit the account. If you have an Enduring Power of Attorney, or Lasting Power of Attorney for property and finance in place, and want your Attorney to be able to access your bank account, then ask the bank to register them as Attorney, rather than adding them as a joint owner.

What Are The Rules For Jointly Owned Furniture etc?

As with bank accounts, there is a presumption that the furniture, fixtures and fittings (including, for example, artwork, antiques, custom pieces) in a jointly owned home will be owned by the co-owners as joint tenants and pass as set out above.

If you and the person you co-own a property with live together, but want to keep the fixtures, fittings and furniture separate so that you own them either as individuals or as tenants in common – then you must clearly record how each item is owned by each of you, and keep this record somewhere so that it will be found upon your death(s).

Whilst owning a piece of furniture or artwork as tenants in common is potentially difficult because by definition it cannot be split into shares, it can be sold and the sale proceeds divided.

Be careful! If you were to die first, and you left your share of the property’s furniture and fittings to someone other than the person you shared your home with, would you really want that person to be able to force your co-owner to sell them? This can lead to disputes or your surviving co-owner being left in a difficult position, so it is something that you should think about carefully and discuss with your solicitor when preparing your Will.

Picture of a room with furniture in it including a sofa, coffee table, and chairs.

In Conclusion

It is important that you consider how you own joint assets – whether large or small, valuable or not – so that you know what is going to happen to them when you die.

Remember! Just because you have a Will, that doesn’t mean it will apply to everything you own when some assets are jointly owned with one or more other people. So make sure you speak to your solicitor about jointly owned assets when making or updating your Will.

If you’re not sure how you own joint bank accounts or other financial products, you should be able to find this out from the financial institution that holds the account. If you want assistance with this, or wish to change your ownership of any asset and aren’t sure how to go about it, then you can contact our specialist team to discuss how we can help.

Contact us

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The content of this blog post is for information only and does not constitute formal legal advice and should not be relied upon as advice. Thornton Jones Solicitors Limited accepts no liability for any such reliance upon this content. Where the post includes links to external websites, Thornton Jones Solicitors Limited accepts no responsibility for the content of such sites. Any link to a third-party website should not be construed as endorsement by Thornton Jones Solicitors Limited of any content, products or services which are outside our direct control.

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