Many of you will have read in the press about the case recently brought by Geoffrey Boycott for professional negligence against his advisers concerning the way in which he owned a property with his former partner and which made us think about the issues involved.
For many people embarking on property ownership is a huge step and often undertaken at a time when all is rosy in a relationship and often too little thought is given to the type of ownership. Generally under English law if you are looking to buy a property jointly there are two methods of ownership: joint tenancy or tenants in common. What do these mean? It is vital that people purchasing understand the differences and the effects each can have.
Joint tenancy is still the most common method and can often be described as the default position. If you purchase in this way you each own the property and generally are presumed to own the property in equal shares. This also means that on the death of one of the joint owners the share which they owned automatically passes to the other joint owner. This process is known as succeeding to the tenancy. Whilst initially a tenancy can be registered in this fashion one or other of the parties can sever the joint tenancy. To do this is straight forward and simply involves notice being given to all parties and ideally this being noted at the Land Registry. The property will then be owned as tenants in common and it will be presumed that each owns an equal share.
Tenants in common is where joint owners each own a defined share of the property. This method is often recommended to unmarried owners and those who are making unequal contributions and wish for these to be recognised in the ownership. When registered the transfer document will specify what percentage is owned by each party. On death of one party their share of the property then goes on to form part of their estate and does not automatically pass by the rule of survivorship described above in respect of joint tenancies. Often parties owning as tenants in common will also enter into a Deed specifying the particular contributions they have made and also dealing with how on sale the proceeds will be split etc. Generally a tenancy in common cannot become a joint tenancy without all the joint owners agreeing (different form the position relating to joint tenants).
As was discovered by Mr. Boycott a failure to have the correct method of ownership can lead to consequences which one or other party did not intend. For Mr. Boycott he believed that the property was registered as Joint Owners. However at some point before his partner passed away she acted to sever the joint tenancy thereby creating a tenancy in common. On her death rather than her share passing to Mr. Boycott it formed part of her estate and Mr. Boycott did not inherit! According to the reporting this case gave rise as one would expect from Mr. Boycott to some forthright views being expressed!
It is important that all home owners understand these principles and the consequences to make sure that the arrangements they have in place do fit their own circumstances and that they can and should review these when circumstances change. Sadly an area which all too often people in that first rush of ownership do not give sufficient thought to often leading to expensive litigation and dispute down the line.
Please note the purpose of this article is simply to give a broad outline and it is always vital that you look to take specific advice on individual circumstances