What Happens to Jointly Owned Assets When One Spouse Dies?

  • Estate Planning
what happens to jointly owned assets when one spouse dies | estate and probate legal group

It’s common a couple to jointly own assets, such as a home. Clients often ask how to put co-ownership property into a will. You want to ensure this is done correctly, so if both owners die at the same time, the assets will be transferred to their name beneficiaries. But what happens to jointly owned assets when one spouse dies?

Joint Tenancy vs. Tenancy In Common

These are two different ways two people can own assets together. The most common is joint tenancy with rights of survivorship (JTWROS). In this case, when one owner dies, the assets go directly to the other owner, with no need for probate court. The assets owned can be land, house, vehicle, bank account, investments or more.

When looking at the asset’s title, it will often state both persons’ names and say as ‘joint tenants’ or ‘JTWROS’. Both of these mean the surviving owner will automatically receive the asset.

Tenancy in common is when each owner has distinct, separate transferrable interests in the assets. This type of co-ownership has no survivorship rights. If one co-owner passes, they can leave their portion of ownership to their beneficiary via a will or trust.

Tenancy In Common

This is another option for married couples that purchase real estate together. This allows both people in the marriage to own 100% of the property with the rights of survivorship. In this case, when one spouse dies, the property goes directly to the surviving spouse, with no need for probate court. 

What Happens to Jointly Owned Assets When One Spouse Dies?

If you have jointly owned assets when one spouse dies, the property is yours. But there are several steps that you may want to take to declare you as the sole owner of the asset and make dealing with the property down the road easier. Let’s say you and your spouse own your house together, and your spouse passes away. The house now belongs to you automatically, even if you do nothing. However, removing their name from the title now can prevent issues later, such as when you pass and the house is being sold as part of your estate. To do so usually requires recording a certified copy of the death certificate and a Survivorship Affidavit in the county where the property is located. The affidavit can include:

  • The legal description of the land. You can find this on the deed.
  • A Statement that you own it as joint tenancy.
  • Notice of where the deed is filed and recorded.
  • Name and date of the death of your spouse.
  • Name and signature of surviving owner.

If you jointly own a vehicle, bank account, investment account or any other assets, it can be helpful to claim the death of the co-owner and declare yourself the sole owner.

When writing your will or trust, you must determine which assets are jointly owned, and which are owned by tenancy in common. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you understand your assets’ ownership, and how you want to leave them in your will or trust.

Talk With An Oak Brook Estate Planning Attorney

When establishing your will or trust, you should leave out some items. You should not automatically list jointly owned assets in your will. Let the Estate & Probate Legal Group in Illinois guide you each step of the way. Contact us today at 630-864-5835.

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