A Common Misconception Regarding Joint Real Property Ownership

July 7, 2023- The term probate is often used loosely even if it’s not technically the proper term to describe the involvement of the court in the distribution of a decedent’s assets. Probate is establishing the validity of a will; therefore, when there is no will the terminology used should be estate administration. The definition of estate administration is the process by which a deceased individual’s assets are distributed.

I am often contacted by people who are told they need to have probate or an estate administered on a deceased relative’s share of property. They are often baffled because the deceased relative added a family member or members to the property in the hopes of avoiding an administration. So what happened?

The way in which multiple owners hold title on a deed affects whether the surviving owners have full interest in the property upon a co-owner’s death.  Depending on how title is held, the surviving co-owners may have full interest in the property, without the need for an administration or the decedent’s share may pass to the deceased’s heirs or beneficiaries, which would require an administration. Please note that heirs or beneficiaries can be different from the surviving co-owners.

Other matters that may arise due to adding co-owners to real property include possible issues with Medicaid coverage for nursing home care and property tax discounts.

Lastly, in case you are wondering about the difference between heirs and beneficiaries. An heir is someone who is legally entitled to property if there is no will. A beneficiary is someone who is named in a legal document, for example, a will or trust.

Please note that this is not legal advice and laws vary by jurisdiction so if you have any questions or concerns regarding this topic, you should consult an attorney.