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Jointly owned property is property owned by more than one person. It is generally not included in the estate of a decedent. Examples of jointly owned personal property are if you and another person are both listed on the title of a car or if you have a joint bank account. If the other person dies, you automatically have full ownership of that property.

Sometimes joint ownership is more complex. If you owned real property with a decedent, or if you own any property with a decedent and someone else, ownership can be hard to understand after a death.

In Michigan, you can jointly own property in four ways:

  • Tenants in common
  • Joint tenants
  • Joint tenants with full rights of survivorship
  • Tenants by the entireties

All four forms of joint property leave the surviving owner with different rights. When dealing with complex joint property situations, you may want to talk with a lawyer. Use the Guide to Legal Help to find a lawyer or legal services in your area. 

Survivorship and the 120-Hour Rule

Survivorship (outliving your co-owner) affects more than just the four types of jointly owned property. It can also affect inheritance rights of heirs and devisees. In Michigan, a person must live more than 120 hours after their co-owner dies for the survivorship rights to take effect. Generally, anyone who dies during the first 120 hours after a decedent’s death is considered to have predeceased (died before) the decedent. When that happens, they lose their interest in the decedent’s property. As a result, this person’s heirs and devisees will not receive a share in the decedent’s property. The 120-hour rule is not followed if:

  • A will, deed, title, or trust addresses simultaneous deaths or deaths in a common disaster;
  • A will, deed, title, or trust states a person is not required to survive for a certain amount of time or it specifies a different survival period;
  • The rule would affect interests protected by Michigan law; or
  • The rule would cause a failure or duplication in distributing property.

Tenants in Common (Real Property)

A tenancy in common is created when real property is conveyed (transferred) to two or more people who are not married to each other, and there is no reference to joint tenancy or right of survivorship. All of the tenants in common have an equal right to use or occupy the entire property so long as the tenancy stays intact. Once a tenant dies or sells their share, the remaining tenants are entitled only to their fractional share. Each tenant’s share passes to their estate when they die; there is no survivorship right.

Here is an example:

Bob, Mary, and Kelly own a cottage together as tenants in common. Mary dies. Her 1/3 share of the cottage goes to her estate, not to Bob and Kelly. Bob and Kelly each own 1/3 shares of the cottage.

Joint Tenants (Real and Personal Property)

A joint tenancy is created when property is jointly conveyed to two or more people. With real property, the conveyance (usually a deed) must specifically mention joint tenancy. However, when two people are listed on financial accounts (bank, credit, or savings), or when they are listed on a vehicle title, they automatically own the property jointly. If the phrase “Full Rights To Survivor” appears on account documents or vehicle title, the ownership right becomes a survivorship right when one of the joint tenants dies. This means the surviving joint tenant takes full ownership. If that phrase doesn’t appear, then the property will either be probated with the rest of the deceased person’s estate, or it will be divided between that person’s next-of-kin (heirs).

Here is an example:

Mary and Kelly have a vehicle that is jointly titled in their names with the phrase “Full Rights To Survivor” written on it. Kelly dies. Mary now automatically owns the vehicle, even if Kelly’s estate is going through the probate process.

Real property is more complicated. If the property is conveyed only as a joint tenancy— with no mention of a right of survivorship— the survivorship right can be severed by the owners. A single tenant could sell their interest in the property. Or, all of the tenants could agree to sever the joint tenancy, making it a tenancy in common. (See the above section on Tenants in Common).

Here is an example:

Bob, Mary, and Kelly own a cottage together as joint tenants. Kelly sells her 1/3 share of the property to John. This destroys her joint tenancy share and transforms it into a tenancy in common. Mary dies (with her joint tenancy with Bob intact). Her 1/3 share goes to Bob and not to her estate or John. If John died, his share would go to his estate. 

Joint Tenants with Full Rights of Survivorship (Real Property)

A joint tenancy with full survivorship rights is created when real property is conveyed to two or more people, and the conveying document (usually a deed) specifically mentions survivorship. When a joint tenant dies, their share passes to the remaining tenants. No owner can sell or transfer their interest in the property without the consent of the other joint tenants.

Here is an example:

Bob, Mary, and Kelly own a cottage together as joint tenants with full rights of survivorship. Mary dies. Bob and Kelly now own the entire cottage. Mary’s estate gets no share of the cottage.

Tenancy by the Entirety (Real and Personal Property)

A tenancy by the entirety is created when property is conveyed to a married couple at the same time. It is not necessary for the conveyance (usually a deed) to mention the creation of a tenancy by the entirety, or to refer to the married couple as such. So long as the conveyance was to spouses who were married to each other at that time, a tenancy by the entirety was created.

This type of tenancy is almost always for real property. But there are some instances when a tenancy by the entirety can involve personal property, such as stock certificates.

The spouses each have a survivorship right, and each is presumed to own the entire property. Neither can sell or transfer their interest in the property without the other’s consent. Creditors of one spouse cannot put a lien on the property. However, if both spouses are liable for the same debt, the creditor can reach the property.

If the couple gets divorced, the tenancy by the entirety becomes a tenancy in common, unless their judgment of divorce states otherwise.