In ancient Egypt, people once believed that their property would
accompany them upon death. However, in 21st century Canada,
it's no secret that one cannot take their real or personal
property with them when they die. A Will indicates who will be the
owner of property, what property will be owned, and how property
will be owned when it's owned by two or more people.
Property owned by two or more people is typically owned in two
ways: (1) joint tenancy or (2) tenants-in-common (also known as
tenancy in common). It's important to understand this
distinction between joint tenancy and tenancy in common when
planning one's estate.
When property is owned by "joint tenancy," whoever
survives retains all of the property because they all own all of
the property. In other words, when one joint tenant dies, the
entire property belongs to the surviving joint tenant(s). Only the
last surviving owner, who owns all of the property, can give the
property through his or her Will.
If Benjamin, Susan, and Mary own a property together by joint
tenancy, then when Benjamin dies, his entire share of the property
is not distributed according to his Will but passes to Susan and
Mary. Similarly, when Susan dies, her entire share of the property
is not distributed according to her Will but passes to Mary. Now
that Mary retains the entire property, only then she can distribute
the property to others through her Will. This right of survivorship
is inherent in joint tenancy and not present when property is owned
On the other hand, when property is owned by two or more people
as "tenants-in-common," each person's share in the
property is distinct. As a result, because of their respective
fractional shares in the property, they must hold title to the
property as tenants-in-common. Upon each tenant's death, their
share of the property does not belong to the other tenants –
but can be distributed according to his or her Will.
For example, Benjamin, Susan, and Mary own a property together
by tenancy in common. Each owns an equal third of the property.
When Benjamin dies, he can leave his share to his wife; his share
does not have to pass to the other co-tenants, Susan and Mary.
Similarly, if the property is now owned by Benjamin's wife,
Susan, and Mary, then when Mary dies, she can pass her share of the
property to whoever is named in her Will, subject to any other laws
that may apply.
Further, let's say that Benjamin solely owns a cottage, and
his Will states that upon his death, the cottage will equally
belong to his two daughters, Susan and Mary, by joint tenancy.
Either Susan or Mary can sever unilaterally the joint tenancy,
which would cause their ownership interest to transform from joint
tenancy into tenancy in common. Subsequently, Susan and Mary can
sell their share or pass their share of the cottage according to
There are, of course, exceptions to the above. You should
discuss your particular situation with a lawyer, to see if the
above applies to you.
Because of the consequences that flow from owning property
through joint tenancy or tenancy in common, one should understand
the distinction when planning one's estate.
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