Law Articles

Survivorship Deeds

Claude and Maude had been married for 25 years.  After their children moved away, they decided to downsize into a smaller house.  They purchased a small ranch which would be perfect for them in their golden years.  When the transaction closed, they received a deed which simply stated they took title as husband and wife.  They never examined their deed closely. Both Claude and Maude assumed that upon the death of one of them, the entire interest in the house would belong to the surviving spouse.
Many years later, Claude passed away.  When Maude met with an attorney to discuss Claude's estate, she was surprised to learn that she was not the owner of the entire property automatically. She had to open Claude's estate at probate court to administer Claude's interest in the house.  Luckily, Maude was the sole beneficiary under Claude's last will and testament so she received his interest in the house. With approval of the probate court, the land records were updated at the county recorder's office to reflect that Maude owned the entire interest in the property. However, Maude could have avoided the time and expense of a probate estate if their deed simply included language of survivorship.

In Ohio, a survivorship deed creates a “joint tenancy” between two or more owners.  Owners are called survivorship tenants.  Upon the death of one of the survivorship tenants, his or her interest in the property will pass to the surviving tenants automatically.

This bypasses the need for probate.  The surviving owner will inherit the interest in the property regardless of any provisions in the decedent’s will.  Married couples often use this type of deed, but marriage is not a requirement.  Any number of people can hold title under a survivorship deed. 

Each survivorship tenant holds an equal share of the title during their joint lives and each has an equal right to occupancy and use of the property.  Likewise, all share in any profits of the property. Each of the survivorship tenants must pay their proportionate share of the costs related to the ownership and use of the real property. Upon the death of any of them, the title of the decedent vests proportionately in the surviving owners. The entire ownership interest will ultimately pass to the last tenant living. This is done through recording an affidavit and a certified death certificate with the county recorder’s office. The affidavit must recite the names of the other survivorship tenant or tenants, the address of the other survivorship tenant or tenants, the date of death of the decedent.
Ohio law provides that a deed must show a clear intention to create a survivorship tenancy.  The standard language in a survivorship deed transfers property to the owners “for their joint lives, remainder to the survivor of them.”  It is important for owners to review their deeds to see if this language is included.
There are certain risks owning property jointly.  Creditors of one owner may affect the property.  If both joint tenants die at the same time and the order of death cannot be determined, the share of each deceased joint tenant then passes according to his or her written will.  Also, the survivorship deed may be contrary to the owner’s other estate plans.  It is important to review your situation with a trusted attorney before acquiring real property.   The attorneys at Laribee & Hertrick, LLP can provide guidance and assist you so that the title may be established in the best way.
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This article is intended to provide general information about the law. It is not intended to give legal advice.  Readers are urged to seek advice from an attorney regarding their specific issues and rights. Contact an attorney at Laribee & Hertrick, LLP, request more information about our legal services today.

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