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Tenants in Common With Right Of Surviviorship

Coarsegold, CA |

My husbands parents gifted us a piece of property with two homes on it. The deed was titled to both of us Tenants in Common With Right Of Suviviorship. We live in California. I was wondering if this was the correct way to title the deed. Someone told me that if something were to happen to my husband would the property go back to my inlaws? We don't have a will yet and are in the process of drawing one up. Thank you for any help.

Attorney Answers 7


There is no such form of ownership in California (or anywhere else in the United States of which I am aware) as "Tenants in Common with Right of Survivorship." There is "tenants in common," which means each person owns the specific percentage of the property indicated, or equal shares if no percentage is indicated. There is "joint tenants with right of survivorship," where each person owns the exact same interest, and the last surviving joint tenant owns the entire property. For married couples, there is also "community property" and "community property with right of survivorship." It may even be that your husbands' parents have made a transfer that creates what is called a "cloud" on the title of the property, because the nature of the transfer is not clear. This is because it appears to be trying to combine tenants in common with one aspect of joint tenancy.

You may be able to correct everything with a transfer from both of you to yourselves in a more proper form, or having your husbands' parents do a new transfer that corrects the previous transfer. Either way, you need to consult with a local real estate or estate planning attorney to get it sorted out. A call to a title insurance company may also be needed to make sure that whatever is done will, in fact, create a clear title for you and your husband.

Please remember to mark what you believe to be the best answer to your question. This answer is provided by estate planning attorney Robert P. Bergman, with offices in San Jose, California. Mr. Bergman is a Certified Specialist in Estate Planning, Trust and Probate Law (State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization), and has been practicing since 1980. This answer does not create an attorney-client relationship, and is only intended to provide general legal advice within the limits of the question asked. If you wish to create an attorney-client relationship for specific legal advice, it will be necessary to enter into an engagement for legal services. More general legal information about wills, living trusts, and estate planning can be found at Mr. Bergman's main website at, or his information website at Mr. Bergman also offers free living trust seminars and wealth preservation seminars at his offices in San Jose. For those unable to attend a live seminar, an online living trust seminar may be viewed or downloaded at

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You should take title as "husband and wife as community property with right of survivorship".

This will enable the surviving spouse to receive a complete step-up in basis of the real property on the death of the first spouse. The step-up in basis will reduce the capital gains tax that is due when you sell the property.

Alternatively, if you take title as "husband and wife as joint tenants with right of survivorship" the surviving spouse will only receive a one-half step-up in basis of the real property on the death of the first spouse.

This answer is provided by tax and estate planning attorney Stephanie D. Winstead. Mrs. Winstead is licensed to practice law in the State of California ONLY and she maintains offices in Laguna Niguel, California and Carlsbad, California.. This answer DOES NOT create an attorney-client relationship, and is only intended to provide general advice within the limits of the question asked. If you wish to create an attorney-client relationship for specific legal advice, it will be necessary to enter into an engagement for legal services. More general legal information about wills, living trusts, and estate planning can be found at Mrs. Winstead’s website at www.WinsteadLaw.Net.

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You haven't told us where the property is located, and the answer to this question is probably very State specific.

The terms "tenants in common" and "with right of survivorship" are inconsistent in Illinois where I practice. Rights of survivorship are associated with joint tenants, not tenants in common. When a joint tenant dies, the surviving joint tenant(s) succeed to the interest of the deceased automatically and without probate.

On the other hand, when a tenant in common dies, his or her interest passes according to his or her will, if he or she has one, or if not, passes to his or her heirs at law, according to the laws of intestate succession.

So what would happen with "tenants in common with right of survivorship?" No idea. I suppose it could be argued that the "right of survivorship" being the last part of the phrase, is controlling and the other tenant(s) take the interest of the deceased tenant, but to my thinking this is in no way a sure thing.

A skilled real estate attorney practicing in the State where the property is located could prepare a corrective deed, clarifying the grantors' (parents) intentions.

Answering your question on AVVO, does not create a lawyer-client relationship between us. Under the rules of the Supreme Court of Illinois, or the rules of other jurisdictions, this answer may be regarded as advertising. Because questions provided on AVVO simply cannot contain a complete description of all the relevant facts, information contained in this answer should not be considered as individual legal advice or legal opinion. You are urged to consult an attorney licensed to practice in your State regarding your own legal situation.

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As my colleagues point out, you have "tenants in common", "joint tenants with right of survivorship", and "husband and wife (with or without right of survivorship, as appropriate)". My analysis is "joint tenants with right of survivorship." In none of the cases does the property revert to the inlaws.

The above is general legal and business analysis. It is not "legal advise" but analysis, and different lawyers may analyse this matter differently, especially if there are additional facts not reflected in the question. I am not your attorney until retained by a written retainer agreement signed by both of us. I am only licensed in California. See also terms and conditions item 9, incorporated as if it was reprinted here.

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Having established that there is no such form of ownership as is recited on your deed you have now, I believe that you and your spouse CAN and SHOULD execute a document to fix it (regardless of what the grantor originally intended). You need to speak to an attorney about how to reflect title the way that both of you intend (ie, with or without rights of survivorship) and check with a title company to make sure the language in the new deed used to fix the problem will clear out any potential title issues. In any case, you and your spouse should NOT wait until one of you pass away to fix the issue.

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I agree with my colleagues. My guess is that this deed was drawn up as a "do-it-yourself" deed, and fortunately, you discovered the mistake soon enough to correct it. Your in-laws need to have another deed executed, this time by a qualified estate planning attorney. In many states, a deed to two people who are husband and wife creates a "tenancy by the entireties." That has the same legal effect as joint tenants with rights of survivorship, for all intents and purposes. THIS time around, your in-laws should set this up through an attorney, so it is done right.

They will also want to set up durable power of attorney forms for health care and finances, so they can avoid probate appointment of a guardian/conservator, if they become incapacitated.

James Frederick

*** LEGAL DISCLAIMER I am licensed to practice law in the State of Michigan and have offices in Wayne and Ingham Counties. My practice is focused in the areas of estate planning and probate administration. I am ethically required to state that the above answer does not create an attorney/client relationship. These responses should be considered general legal education and are intended to provide general information about the question asked. Frequently, the question does not include important facts that, if known, could significantly change the answer. Information provided on this site should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed attorney that practices in your state. The law changes frequently and varies from state to state. If I refer to your state's laws, you should not rely on what I say; I just did a quick Internet search and found something that looked relevant that I hoped you would find helpful. You should verify and confirm any information provided with an attorney licensed in your state.

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Sorry but there is no such thing as "tenants in common with right of survivorship". Your husband's parents mixed up two different kinds of ownership. Joint tenants with right of survivorship means that you both own the property equally, and if one dies, the property is then owned by the survivor. Tenants in common means that you each own the whole property, but there is no right of survivorship with this type of tenancy. The title is now clouded and you should ensure that it is cleared up. Since your husband's parents gave you the property, you can re-draft the title to yourselves in the proper tenancy. Community property tenants with right of survivorship is the same as joint tenancy, but it is a bastardization of the concept.

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