Do You Know How You Own Your Home—Really?

I’ve had a case where a home was owned by three siblings.  One of them died.  The other two assumed that they were now the owners—wrong!  They were shocked and angry to find out that the deceased sibling’s share of the home was now going to be owned by his surviving wife and children.

They quickly found out that two (or more) people can own property many different ways.  Do you know how your property is really owned?  The information presented below is state-specific to Indiana.  Real estate ownership is governed by state law, so your particular state may have different rules.

Tenants by the Entireties

If a husband and wife are married when they took title to property (and remained married), and their deed reads something like Joe and Mary, husband and wife, it’s definitely tenancy by the entireties.  What does this mean?

  • They must be married:  This type of ownership is only available to married couples.
  • Survivorship:  If one dies, the real estate is automatically owned by the other
  • Creditor protection:  In many cases, the creditor of one of them cannot go after the real estate to pay a debt
  • Protection against conveyance:  Neither owner can convey his or her share without the other joining in
  • Equal ownership of the whole:  Both spouses equally own the real estate as though they were one entity.

Tenancy by the Entirety ownership is terminated by divorce, when ownership automatically turns into tenants-in-common.

Joint Tenants with the Right of Survivorship

Anyone can own real estate as Joint Tenants with the Right of Survivorship (sometimes the shorthand of JTWROS is used).  This means if one of the owners dies, the real estate is automatically owned equally by the surviving owner or owners.  The real estate does not pass according to the deceased person’s Will.

For example, if the siblings Joe, Fred and Dan own real estate as JTWROS, each owns an equal share of the whole.  To own real estate as JTWROS, the deed by which they took title must read:  “Joe, Fred and Dan, as joint tenants with the right of survivorship.”

If owned this way, if Joe dies, the real estate is automatically owned equally by Fred and Dan.

Unlike tenancy by the entireties, any one of the joint owners is allowed to convey his or her share, without the others joining in.  If that happens, the joint tenancy is converted to tenancy in common. 

There cannot be unequal ownership percentages in a JTWROS ownership—each owner owns an equal share.


If instead Joe, Fred and Dan’s deed reads either: 

1) Joe, Fred and Dan, as tenants-in-common,

or simply 2) Joe, Fred and Dan

Then this wording means Tenants-in-Common (TIC) ownership.

  • TIC presumes equal shares unless the deed says differently.  A deed could say:  Joe 50%, Fred 25% and Dan 25%.
  • if one of the TIC owners dies, that person’s share passes according to that person’s Will.  If that person has no Will, then it passes at death according to the intestate laws of the state that he/she is a resident.

Entity Ownership

A deed could be owned by a non-person legal entity, such as a Trust, a corporation, or an LLC.  In this case, how the ownership operates is defined by the set-up of the entity.

Life Estate Ownership

A life estate is an ownership split in time.

For example, Martha, Lisa’s mother, might own a life estate in the farm, and the Lisa the child owns the “remainder” or “future” interest.  That means that Martha is entitled to all of the rights and responsibilities during her lifetime, but her interest extinguishes upon her death. 

This is a more complex type of ownership, and I’ll delve further into it in a future blog post.


Necessary Lawyer Stuff

This blog is provided for general information and is not legal advice.  You should not take any actions based on the content of this blog without seeking the advice of an attorney.  To get advice on your particular situation, seek specific legal counsel from your own attorney.  Also, some of the content of this blog is Indiana-specific and may not apply to your particular state of residence. 

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