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A property which is owned by more than one person can be owned in two different ways. How you are able to deal with your interest in the property depends upon which way it is owned and this can have important consequences.

A property can be owned as joint tenants and in this instance if either party dies the surviving owner will automatically take ownership of the property.

The alternative is known as tenants in common in which instance each party owns distinct shares and is able to direct how they wish their share to be dealt with in their Will or dispose of their share during their lifetime.

When drafting Wills we often encounter a situation where people believe that they can leave their interest in a property to a third party who is not a joint owner but as they own the property as a joint tenant this option is not available to them. It is possible to sever a joint tenancy so that it becomes a tenancy in common and there are various ways in which this can be done.

Similarly jointly owned bank accounts will pass to the surviving co-owner and so practical changes to accounts may be required to enable someone to leave some money from a joint account to someone other than their co-owner. For example, a married couple who hold a joint bank account may wish to leave some of the money in the account to a child when they die, however the money in the account would automatically pass to the surviving account owner. In order to be able to leave money from the account to a child it will be necessary to set up a sole account.

If you wish to discuss these issues or seek advice in relation to separating out jointly held assets please contact cathy.warnock@edwardsandcompany.co.uk