What’s the Difference Between Joint Tenancy and Community Property?

Joint tenancy vs. community property

Whenever there’s a situation in which two or more people own a piece of property, each individual person owns a share of that property. This means that neither person owns the property outright—instead, the people own the property as a whole. This is a common scenario with real estate ownership, but can also occur with other types of assets.

The two most common types of joint property ownership in this manner are property held in joint tenancy and community property, each with right of survivorship.

What is the ‘right of survivorship’ for property owners?

The right of survivorship is a legal right allowing property owners to hold on to property in the event of the death of a co-owner. In such a case, the property automatically passes to the remaining co-owner(s) without the need for complex legal processes.

Let’s take a look at each of these two property ownership structures in detail to analyze the similarities and differences.


What is joint tenancy?

Joint tenancy is a property ownership structure between two or more co-owners in which each person owns an undivided interest of the property (called joint tenants). In California, the majority of married couples hold their real estate property as joint tenants with right of survivorship.

Joint tenancy creates a right of survivorship, so upon the death of one party, his or her share will pass on to the remaining joint tenant(s).

For example: If a married couple owns a home as joint tenants, both have an equal stake in the home. If one spouse passes away, his or her interest will pass automatically to the surviving spouse, who is left with 100 percent ownership of the property. This allows probate to be avoided.

A joint tenancy can be broken if any of the tenants sells or transfers his or her interest to another person, as this changes the ownership arrangement.

Community property with right of survivorship

Community property also ensures a surviving spouse or co-owner receives the property share of a deceased co-owner. Couples who own community property also have an undivided interest in the whole property. However, spouses are not allowed to pass on their interest in the property to someone other than their spouse in their estate plans.

The biggest way this structure differs from joint tenancy is that it is only available to married couples. You do not have to be married or even related to your co-owner to hold property in joint tenancy.

If you wanted to own a piece of rental property with a friend or business partner, you would do so under a joint tenancy arrangement.  In such a case, if you were to pass away, your friend or business partner would receive your share as the other co-owner.

Contact an estate planning attorney to review your property ownership details

While there are other structures of property ownership among multiple people, joint tenancy and community property are the most common in California.

If you have any questions about how these structures work or need legal advice while making a property transaction, contact our trusted Los Angeles estate planning attorneys for a free consultation: (626) 307-2800 or info@amity-law.com.

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