24 Apr

Severing a Joint Tenancy

Couples usually buy a property together as joint tenants, which means they both own the entire property, and the ownership automatically transfers to the surviving owner in case of one owner's death. If you want to gift your share of the home in your Will, you must change the ownership to tenants in common. Note that if there is a life interest trust in the Will, the title must be severed for the share of the property to enter the trust. Let's first look at the difference between holding the home as joint tenants and tenants in common.

How is your property held?

Joint Tenancy (100% each)

Joint tenancy means owning a property equally with another person. When one owner dies, the other automatically becomes the sole owner. You cannot leave your share to someone else in your Will.

Tenants in Common (50%-50%)

When owning a property as tenants in common, each owner has a divided share, which can be equal or unequal. Trusts can be used to protect individual shares. To check ownership, download the title register from the land registry website. To change from joint tenants to tenants in common, complete a notice of severance and an SEV form, then send them to the land registry.

Do I have to instruct a conveyancer to carry out the severance?

No. Fern Wills Can do this for you.

Does the severance have to be mutually agreed upon by the homeowners?

No, to sever a jointly owned home due to a dispute, you can serve a notice of severance on your partner. 

What is the severance of a joint tenancy?

Severance of a joint tenancy is a legal process that changes the legal ownership of property from joint tenants to tenants in common. Usually, both parties agree to sever the joint tenancy. However, both parties don't need to decide. One party can serve notice on the other, requiring them to sever the joint tenancy, regardless of their preference.

What are the disadvantages of joint tenancy?

Joint tenancy means that if one owner dies, the property automatically belongs to the surviving owner(s). You must end the arrangement to leave your share to someone else. Joint tenancy can create complications if a couple separates and may prevent the property from being sold without the consent of all owners.

Why would you sever a joint tenancy?

Severing a joint tenancy converts the ownership into a tenancy in common. There are three main reasons for doing this:

  1. To end the automatic right of survivorship. Consider severing a joint tenancy and creating a Will if planning your estate. This ensures that your beneficiaries receive their share of the property without being dependent on your partner. Opting for a tenancy in common gives you more control over what happens to your property after your death, allowing you to decide who gets what.
  1. Property income. If you own a rental or income-generating property with someone else, you can change how you split the income by severing the joint tenancy. This means you can receive income in unequal shares, for example, 60-40 or 70-30, not only the traditional 50/50. By doing this, you can create a tenancy in common, which is a more tax-efficient way for co-owners to share rental income.
  1. Separation and divorce. In divorce proceedings, joint tenancy is often severed to prevent an ex-spouse from automatically inheriting the property. It also specifies ownership interest, resolving any future disputes regarding the sale of the property
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