How to Inherit Joint Tenancy Property in California
Property held in joint tenancy passes automatically to the surviving joint tenant (or tenants) when a joint tenant dies. It is probably the most common way that people own property together. No probate is necessary, just some paperwork. This is called "right of survivorship" and it makes the transfer of property upon death really easy.
Married couples can own most of their property this way: homes, cars, bank accounts, and brokerage accounts. Unrelated partners can own property as joint tenants, and sometimes parents will own property with their children this way, as well.
Property held jointly passes outside of whatever a Will or trust says. This can be a source of confusion and upset-- if a parent's Will leaves everything equally to all three kids, but only one child is a joint owner of a bank account, that one child is the owner of that account, and is under no legal obligation to share with his or her siblings.
Bank and brokerage accounts will usually list the names of the joint owners with an abbreviation like "JTWROS." You may have to check with the bank to make sure if two people were joint owners on an account. Sometimes, two people are listed on checks, for example, but only one is the owner; the other is there for signature purposes/convenience, this is often the case between parents and children.
For a car, you first need to see exactly how the pink slip is worded. In some states, like California and Connecticut, the world "or" between parties creates a joint tenancy. But in others, like Arizona, the words "and/or" are used. Check with California's department of Motor Vehicles to see what the required language is. Click here for a directory of all of the state's departments of motor vehicles.
For real property, the deed will say something like:"Chandler and Lori Higgins, as joint tenants with right of survivorship." In some states, married couples can own property in 'Tenancy by the Entirety' or as 'Community Property With Right of Survivorship,' both forms of property ownership also have a right of survivorship, and transfer outside of probate.
How to Transfer Jointly Held Property
For most jointly held property, such as bank accounts and brokerage accounts, all the surviving owner has to do is fill out a simple form, and supply a copy of the death certificate, to 'clear title' and become the sole owner.
Stocks held in certificate form (instead of in a brokerage account) will need to be reissued in the name of the surviving owner. To do this, you'll need to return the original certificate to the corporations "transfer agent," a company that manages another company's stock program. You'll have to check with the transfer agent to find out exactly what they'll need.
For real property, the surviving owner has to record a document with the county's recorder office that shows that one joint owner has died and that the survivor is now the sole owner of the property.
The most common way that this is done is through the use of an Affidavit (a sworn statement), which usually contains the following elements:
- A legal description of the property.
- A statement that the property was held in joint tenancy.
- Recording information that identifies the prior document that established joint ownership. (This is usually a book and page number, or a document identification number for the prior deed).
- The name and date of death of the deceased owner.
- The name of the surviving owner.
- A certified copy of the death certificate.
Click here for a list of California's land offices to find out where to record an affidavit of death of joint owner and exactly what California requires.