Survivorship Rights on a Texas Title

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The assets of a decedent typically pass to their beneficiaries according to their will, or if there is no will, to their heirs per the state's intestacy laws. This involves a lengthy probate process, but real estate owners may be able to pass jointly owned assets directly to co-owners through Texas' right of survivorship laws.

Right of Survivorship in Texas

Right of survivorship is one way of jointly owning title to real property. If a property has a right of survivorship designation, the surviving joint owner (or owners) automatically absorbs the deceased owner's share of the property. The process may differ slightly from state to state.

Right of survivorship applies only when there is more than one property owner in co-ownership. The property’s ownership structure and the deed dictate whether or not the owners have right of survivorship.

Types of Deeds With Right of Survivorship

These deeds indicate, through their wording, right of survivorship and how the transfer and division of a property will occur.

  • Joint tenancy deed:‌ The most common deed that includes the right of survivorship. In joint tenancy, each owner has a right of survivorship with all other owners. When one owner dies, their property interest passes equally to the survivors. When only one owner is left, that person fully inherits the property and can do with it what they please

sell it or pass it on to a beneficiary. Tenancy by the entirety:‌ This type of joint ownership is strictly for spouses. One spouse cannot take action on a property without the other’s express consent. They cannot sell it, take out a mortgage or bequeath it, unless their spouse agrees to the action and gives written consent. When one spouse dies, the surviving spouse automatically owns the entire property. Community property:‌ In the U.S., only nine states have community property laws. Under community property law, spouses are considered as one economic unit, so one spouse automatically holds community property with right of survivorship even if the deed does not formally list them. When one spouse dies, property passes automatically to the surviving spouse. Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin are community property states. Domestic partnerships also operate in California, Nevada and Washington. Alaska, Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee and South Dakota spouses have the option to take part in a community property system or designate specific assets as community property.

Tenancy in Common vs. Joint Tenancy in Texas

In Texas, two forms of property co-ownership are common: tenancy in common and joint tenancy. Tenancy in common does not contain the right of survivorship, but joint tenancy does.

In Texas, tenancy in common is the most popular form of co-ownership; it occurs when two or more entities jointly own a property. Co-owners of the property hold an undivided interest and right to possess it—they can freely devise, lease, sell or otherwise transfer their share of the property in their will or by intestacy laws if they do not have a will.

In a joint tenancy, when an owner dies, their property passes to the surviving owners. However, unlike in most states, the right of survivorship is not automatically recognized in Texas—all parties must agree in writing to include right of survivorship in the joint tenancy written agreement. In a joint tenancy with right of survivorship, ownership passes to the surviving co-owners; in a joint tenancy, their share passes to the decedent's heirs.

Community Property Right of Survivorship Agreement

According to Texas law, spouses can agree that any or all of their community property becomes the property of the survivor when one of them dies. A community property survivorship agreement allows property to automatically pass to the surviving spouse without having to go to probate court.

A community property survivorship agreement must be written and signed by both spouses. This agreement creates a right of survivorship in the community property. The agreement must contain one of these phrases in order to be valid:

  • With right of survivorship.
  • Will become the property of the survivor.
  • Will vest in and belong to the surviving spouse.
  • Shall pass to the surviving spouse.

The couple must then file their agreement in the office of the county clerk where they live.

Revoking a Community Property Survivorship Agreement

A community property survivorship agreement in Texas can be revoked according to the terms of the agreement. If an agreement does not provide a revocation method, it can be revoked in writing as long as both spouses sign the revocation, or one spouse signs it and delivers it to the other spouse.

The agreement can also be revoked when one or both spouses liquidates the property, and the disposition is not consistent with the agreement’s specific terms and Texas law.

Right of Survivorship and Motor Vehicles

In Texas, if two or more individuals complete a right-of-survivorship ownership agreement for a vehicle, they will jointly own the vehicle, even if it only has one recorded owner. If one or more individuals who completed the agreement dies, the vehicle’s ownership automatically goes to the surviving individuals.

When signing the rights-of-survivorship agreement, a notary is required, unless the individuals signing are a legally married couple that already jointly own the vehicle.

All individuals with a right of survivorship in a vehicle title must act together when transferring ownership—if one owner dies, the surviving owners should complete and submit an application for title. They'll also need to present a copy of the decedent's death certificate at the time of transfer.

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