Michigan Laws on Joint Tenancy With Rights of Survivorship

By Elizabeth Rayne

If you want to own land with someone else in Michigan, you have a number of legal options to structure that ownership, including joint tenancy with rights of survivorship. This type of ownership locks in your right to own the entire property if you outlive the co-owners. However, if you change your mind about where you want the property to go after you die, it can be difficult to remove the co-owner's rights of survivorship.

Joint Tenancy

In Michigan, you may own property with one or more other people as joint tenants, either with or without full rights of survivorship. A joint tenancy is created when the document transferring the property, such as a deed, specifies that two or more people will own the property "as joint tenants." This means that when one owner dies, his ownership is automatically transferred to the other property owners. On the other hand, property may instead be owned as tenants in common, which means each owner may transfer his interest in the property to whoever he wants after he dies.

Full Rights of Survivorship

If the instrument conveying the property specifies that the joint tenants have full rights of survivorship, this makes it even more difficult for an owner to designate how his property should be distributed after he dies. Without full rights of survivorship, any owner may transfer his interest in the property to a third party. When he does so, the joint tenancy converts to a tenancy in common, allowing each owner to transfer his interest in the property to whoever he wants after he dies. However, with full rights of survivorship, even if an owner sells or gives his property to a third person, the joint tenancy is not severed. Instead, the original joint tenants still automatically acquire the property when the owner dies.

Severing Survivorship

If you own property as a joint tenant with rights of survivorship, typically the only way to gain control over what happens to the property after you die is to outlive the other joint tenants. In this case, you would be the sole, fee simple owner of the property, meaning you freely and completely own it. While the owners are living, you may pursue a partition proceeding to divide the property, but this is a complicated and lengthy process which likely requires the assistance of an attorney.

Married Couples

In Michigan, the law allows married couples to own property as tenants by the entireties, which has a right of survivorship, but it automatically converts to tenancy in common if the couple divorces. However, if the property is owned as joint tenants with full rights of survivorship, this is not automatically severed with a separation, but instead requires the couple to pursue a partition action.

About the Author

Elizabeth Rayne earned her J.D. from Penn State University and has been practicing law since 2009, advising clients on issues ranging from employment law to nonprofit management. For two years, she served as a contributing editor for the "Vermont Environmental Monitor."

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