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The Common Forms of Property Ownership in New York

By Eleanor Boschert

When buying a property in New York, you will need to consider how you will want to hold the title to your real estate purchase. However you chose to take ownership effects your property rights during your lifetime as well the rights of your heirs after death.

Aside from sole ownership where you, as the sole owner, have all the privileges and responsibilities of a property and upon death, it passes directly to your heirs, there are three common forms of property ownership in New York.

  1. Tenancy in Common
  2. If you and any number of people own property (but not with a spouse,) at the same time, you create a tenancy in common. The proportions do not have to be equal, but each owner is entitled to their respective undivided interest in the property. They are also responsible for their share of maintenance and taxes.

    Upon death, the interest can be sold or transferred to others or your heirs through a will or trust. The person receiving the property will then hold your interest in the property with other surviving tenants in common. If issues arise around how to sell or manage a property, it will be up to the courts to decide the appropriate action.

  3. Joint Tenancy with Rights of Survivorship
  4. As with tenancy in common, this category is property owned by two or more people at the same time in equal shares. Each joint tenant has an undivided right to possess the whole property and a proportionate right of equal ownership interest.

    However, a survivorship states that in death of a joint tenant, their share automatically passes proportionately through a survivorship estate to the remaining joint tenants. A joint tenant may in turn, sell their share to a co-tenant or to a third party without the consent of the other co-tenants.

  5. Tenancy in the Entirety
  6. When a husband and wife hold the property title equally and together, they create tenancy in the entirety. This takes place unless the deed expressly states a joint tenancy or tenancy in common. Neither spouse can sell the property without the consent of the other and this type of ownership can serve as a legal mechanism for protecting joint assets. If one spouse should die, their interest will automatically go to the surviving spouse.

    The way in which to distinguish between each type of ownership is easy. It's written after each name on the deed as "tenant in common," "joint tenants with rights of survivorship," or "tenants in entirety."

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