Joint ownership is a popular way of holding property today. Unfortunately, it has also become quite popular in the court system. What at first glance may appear to be a foolproof, hassle-free property agreement between two or more people can often end up in serious litigation.

Joint Property (Simon and Schuster, 1982, $8.95, 223pp), by Alexander A. Bove Jr., details the ins and outs, happiness and heartache, dilemmas, woes and troubles that can arise from joint ownership, or, what really happens when "two or more people own the same property at the same time . . . with the understanding that on the death of any one, the survivors will own the whole."

Bove, senior partner of a Boston law firm concentrating on estate and business planning, examines the widespread and, in his opinion, unfounded popularity of joint ownership. He says people all too often rush into joint ownership thinking they see a way to avoid probate, only to find that they have been hopelessly ensnared in a tangled web of unexpected legal problems and nasty courtroom battles.

Joint Property will prove useful to people thinking about entering into a joint ownership agreement, as well as those already holding property in that manner. The book is not meant to be a substitute for professional legal advice, but it can make the reader aware of possible complications that could easily be avoided.

In an easy-to-read style, he explains the difference between such legal terms as joint tenancy and tenancy in common, and lists the advantages and disadvantages of each. He details the different types of property that can be jointly owned, such as real estate, bank accounts, furs and jewelry; what may happen to each in different circumstances, such as death, divorce or imposition of a lien by creditors; and what the ramifications are of choosing to hold property jointly.

Bove warns that "disposition of joint property at death should never be taken for granted," noting that a simple letter of intent often can serve to avoid bitter legal battles between family members. Joint ownership does not take the place of a will, and care should be taken "to avoid conflicting provisions in a will or other document."

Joint ownership, if not properly handled, will not help you avoid probate, and probably will take its toll in hidden tax liabilities and family relationships, he writes. Bove himself favors trusts as a way of holding property, and in the final chapters he presents his case, claiming that a trust will offer you "all the advantages of joint ownership with none of the disadvantages."