In What Ways Can Property Be Owned Jointly?
Joint ownership of property is a common arrangement, especially among couples, family members, or business partners. It allows multiple individuals to share ownership and responsibility for a property. In the UK, there are two primary forms of joint ownership: joint tenants and tenants in common. Additionally, individuals can use declarations of trust to specify their respective shares and responsibilities within a jointly owned property. This article will explain the nuances of these arrangements and their legal implications.
What is a legal owner and what is a beneficial owner of property?
A legal owner of a property is the individual or entity that holds the legal title to the property as recognised by the law. Legal ownership means that this party has the legal right to possess, control, and make decisions about the property. There can be a maximum of four legal owners and they will all be registered at the Land Registry on the Register of Title for the property. Legal owners can be either a natural person (i.e., human being) or a legal person (i.e., a company). Importantly, legal ownership doesn’t always equate to beneficial ownership, as the beneficial owner may have certain rights and interests in the property despite not holding the legal title.
A beneficial owner of the property, also referred to as the equitable owner or holder of beneficial interest, is an individual or entity that has an underlying financial interest or benefits associated with the property. This interest may arise due to various reasons, such as a trust arrangement, partnership, or other agreements. While the beneficial owner does not need to hold the legal title, they are entitled to enjoy the economic benefits, income, profits, and proceeds derived from the property. Beneficial owners often have equitable rights to the property, which means they have a legitimate claim to the property’s value, even though they may have no legal ownership of the property and accordingly, they may not be registered on the Register of Title at the Land Registry. There can be any number of beneficial owners and this is not limited.
The Difference between ‘Joint Tenants’ and ‘Tenants in Common’
‘Joint Tenants’ and ‘Tenants in Common’ are two different ways of sharing ownership of a property and the nuances of each are explained below under separate headings.
Joint tenancy is a common form of joint ownership in the UK, often chosen by married or cohabiting couples. In a joint tenancy arrangement, all owners collectively own the entire property. This means that each joint tenant has an equal share, and there is a right of survivorship. If one joint tenant passes away, their share automatically transfers to the surviving joint tenants, without the need for probate.
Key features of joint tenancy:
(a) Equal Ownership: All joint tenants have an equal share in the property.
(b) Right of Survivorship: When one joint tenant passes away, their share passes to the surviving joint tenant(s).
(c) No Severance Without Consent: Joint tenancy can only be severed with the consent of all joint tenants.
Tenants in Common
Tenants in common is another form of joint ownership that offers more flexibility than a joint tenancy. In this arrangement, each owner can hold a different share of the property, which can be equal or unequal. Unlike joint tenancy, there is no automatic right of survivorship. When a tenant in common passes away, their share does not automatically transfer to the other owners but becomes part of their estate.
Key features of tenants in common:
(a) Flexible Ownership Shares: Owners can hold unequal shares in the property, reflecting their financial contributions or other agreements.
(a) No Right of Survivorship: There is no automatic transfer of a deceased owner’s share to the remaining owners.
(c) Severance Without Consent: A tenant in common can unilaterally sever their share, creating separate ownership of their portion of the property.
Declarations of Trust
A declaration of trust is a legally binding document that clarifies the ownership and financial arrangements within a jointly owned property. It is particularly useful for tenants in common who wish to specify their respective shares and responsibilities. A declaration of trust can cover various aspects, including:
(a) Ownership Shares: specifying the percentage of ownership each individual holds in the property.
(b) Financial Contributions: determining how expenses related to the property, such as mortgage payments, maintenance costs, and property taxes, are to be shared among the co-owners (such expenses are often referred to as ‘utility bills’).
(c) Sale and Disposal: outlining the process for selling or disposing of the property and how the proceeds will be distributed among the co-owners.
(d) Dispute Resolution: establishing a mechanism for resolving disputes among co-owners, ensuring a fair and transparent process.
We have a detailed article on how declarations of trust work which you can peruse at your leisure here.
Joint ownership of property in the UK offers flexibility and security for co-owners. Whether you choose to co-own a property as joint tenants or tenants in common, it is essential to understand the implications of each arrangement and carefully consider your unique circumstances.
Declarations of trust can further customise the ownership structure to meet your needs, providing clarity and peace of mind for all parties involved. When entering into any joint ownership arrangement, seeking legal advice from one of our experts is advisable to ensure that your interests and rights are adequately protected. As always, we will ensure that your matter is dealt with efficiently, diligently and effectively.
This article is intended for general information only, applies to the law at the time of publication, is not specific to the facts of your case and is not intended to be a replacement for legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before relying on any of the information given. © Jonathan Lea Limited 2023.