Q: My friend and I intend to purchase a condominium unit in the Washington area. We are not married. Each of us will contribute equally to the arrangement. How should we take title to the property?
:A: There are three ways title can be held with another person:
Tenants by the entirety: Reserved for a husband and wife. Under this arrangement, both own the property jointly with an automatic right of survivorship.
If one dies, the other automatically owns the entire property, without the necessity of having to go through the probate court. During their lifetimes, if a judgement has been filed against one spouse, the house cannot be sold to satisfy that judgement, since it is owned jointly.
Joint tenants: Similar to tenants by the entirety, but for non-married owners. If one dies will receive the property automatically.
Tenants in common: Each party has a divisible interest in the property.
If you and your friend title as tenants in common, each would own 50 percent of the property, and you could each do with your interest as you saw fit, subject to the other's interest. You may sell or mortgage your interest in the property and your interest may be subject to any valid judgment against you.
Depending on the situation, unmarried couples may or may not want each other to have the entire property, if one should die.
Here's an example: John A. and Mary B. own property as joint tenants, with survivorship rights. Each has contributed 50 percent toward the purchase and upkeep.
John and Mary are killed in an automobile accident, and it is determined that John died five minutes before Mary. If John and Mary owned the property as joint tenants, John's interest at the time of his death would automatically pass to Mary, and upon her death the entire property would go to Mary's estate.
Clearly, John did not contemplate that strangers would inherit his half interest in the property. This is how lawsuits develop, since John's brothers and sisters may file claims for their interest in John's estate.
To avoid this problem, it is recommended that unrelated buyers take property as tenants in common. Each owns 50 percent of the property, and have absolute control on their interest.
To take care of any future sale, unrelated buyers should enter into a partnership agreement, spelling out their mutual rights and responsibilities. a
It should reflect the financial interests of each and outline in detail what is to occur if the parties voluntarily separate, terminate the partnership or decide to sell out to a third person.
Such an agreement is a binding contract.
What happens If one buyer dies and the other survives? If the survivor is to have the entire house, this should be specified in a will, which anyone owning property should have.