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5 Types of Property Ownership


Purchasing a home or other large asset can be the thrill of a lifetime. Sometimes in the flurry of activity, there are decisions made that could come back to haunt you. No, this isn’t buyer’s remorse. Well, not the kind you are thinking of. The remorse comes way down the road when you find that things aren’t quite the way you thought they were. One thing to make sure you get right is the type of ownership you choose when purchasing such an asset. Here are five types of property ownership, and how each works. Familiarize yourself with these. It may just keep a few extra dollars in your pocket.

A financial advisor can help you create a financial plan for your homebuying needs and goals.

Sole Ownership

This is the easiest form of ownership, as it is exactly as it sounds. One person has complete ownership of the asset in question. The owner in this case can sell, give or donate the asset to anybody without worries of claims from others. The property is transferred based on that person’s wishes in a will. If there is no will, it passes to that person’s heirs based on state law.

The beneficiary who receives the property also receives a “step-up” in the basis of the house for tax purposes. For example, if your parents bought a house 30 years ago for $100,000 that is now worth $1 million, they would have a gain of $900,000 if they sold it. So if they pass away and you inherit the house, the “basis” on which you could be taxed would “step-up” to $1 million. If you sold the property for that amount, there would be no capital gains.

Joint Tenancy

One of several “joint” ownership options, joint tenancy is structured with the same foundation. Two or more people own equal, undivided shares of a property. This ownership can be held by any individuals, regardless of relationship. The ownership stake is not transferable either while the owners are alive or upon their death. Instead, the ownership stake is automatically passed to the surviving owner(s).

Joint Tenancy With Rights of Survivorship (JTWROS)

SmartAsset: 5 Types of Property Ownership

This ownership structure is almost identical to the previous one. The major difference is that you can transfer your ownership stake to another person while alive.

There is a tax situation that you must be aware of here. If an owner passes, the surviving owners receive a step-up in the basis of the property, but only on the portion of the property owned by the deceased owner. If the surviving owner(s) were to try and sell the property, they would still have to show the full gain on their share of the property.

Joint Tenancy in Common

Like the previous options, joint tenancy in common gives each owner an undivided interest in the property to all owners. However, unlike the ones above, the owners can hold different sized stakes in the property. An owner may sell, give or donate their share of a property without the permission of the other owners. Their ownership is not transferred to the remaining owners, nor is it passed on to a spouse. It is passed down to their heirs based on state law. Regardless of whether there is a will, the property must go through probate. This type of ownership is commonly used when spouses are in second marriages (or third?) and have families from the previous one.

Community Property

SmartAsset: 5 Types of Property Ownership

Community property is a bit of a different beast than the other types of ownership. It is only available in nine states currently: Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin.

This ownership structure is specifically for married couples. Any asset or investment that is acquired during the marriage becomes a part of the “community” of the marriage. Upon the death of a spouse, the asset does not automatically transfer to the surviving partner. It can be passed on however the original owner sees fit.

Let’s break this down. A couple gets married in California and buys a house on the beach. If the couple gets divorced and sells the house, they would split the proceeds 50/50. Anything purchased while a couple is separated also falls into the community property arrangement. The same step-up rules apply for the beneficiary in community property states.

Bottom Line

When you go to buy a home or set up an investment account, make sure you review which of these you are using. Not every type applies to every situation, but when there are options, is when you need to confirm you are making the right choice for yourself.

Tips to Buy a Home

  • If you’re not sure which type of home ownership fits your financial needs, consider consulting a financial advisor. Finding a financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three vetted financial advisors who serve your area, and you can have a free introductory call with your advisor matches to decide which one you feel is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • If you are planning to buy a home, SmartAsset’s free mortgage calculator can help you estimate your monthly mortgage payment. This includes your loan’s principal, interest, taxes, homeowners insurance and private mortgage insurance (PMI).

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