A frequently used tool in estate planning is to hold title to property as joint tenants with rights of survivorship. Your co-owner may be your spouse, your child or a dear friend – someone to whom you want the property to pass automatically upon your death. If you elect this option, you don't have to include the property in your will. The survivor needs only to file an affidavit of survivorship with the county where the property is located – the deed takes care of the rest.
If you hold title to property as joint tenants with rights of survivorship, you and your co-owner each have an undivided interest in the property. When one of you dies, full ownership shifts entirely and automatically to the survivor. This avoids probate – and, in fact, you have no right to leave your ownership interest to anyone else in your will if you hold the property with this type of deed. However, the survivor must still take at least one step to ensure that title is legally transferred.
Read More: Joint Tenancy vs. Undivided Interest
An affidavit of survivorship is a sworn statement, made by the survivor of a joint tenancy, that lets the government know that one joint tenant has died and the survivor is taking full ownership of the property by operation of law. Typically, the survivor must attach to the affidavit a copy of the death certificate, and she may also have to produce a copy of the original deed. The sworn statement ties these two documents together and stays on file with the county as a matter of record.
Beverly Bird is a practicing paralegal who has been writing professionally on legal subjects for over 30 years. She specializes in family law and estate law and has mediated family custody issues.