Does it matter how I title my real property?


When you purchase a new home, there comes a point when you must check a box on a form to dictate how that home will be titled.  The box is innocuous enough, giving options like joint tenancy, tenants in common, etc.  You check the box, and later receive a grant deed reflecting your choice.  What many do not realize is that the choice of box will have long-standing implications for how the property is passed on, transferred, and used.

Evidence Code Section 662 provides that the owner of legal title pursuant to a deed is the presumed owner of the equitable title to the same extent.  This means that the manner of ownership shown on the grant deed will be the presumed manner of ownership of the property.  Even if the parties made a mistake titling the property or wanted a different result.  It is possible to rebut the presumption.  The burden, however, is steep and requires strict compliance with a detailed statute.

Joint tenancy in particular is a unique form of property ownership.  What makes joint tenancy distinguishable from other concurrent estates is the right of survivorship, which stands for the right that when one joint tenant dies, the entire estate belongs automatically to the surviving joint tenant(s).  Nothing “passes” from the deceased joint tenant to the survivor(s); rather, the survivor(s) automatically becomes the owner(s) of the property.  Once created, a joint tenancy cannot be altered unless specific steps are taken.

There are pros and cons to each manner of property ownership.  Before you check that box – or try to deed, convey, or otherwise dispose of real property – consult with an attorney.

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