Various Forms of Real Estate Ownership
(1) Joint Tenancy: property owned by two or more people at the same time in equal shares; typically referred to as the four unities (unity of time, title, interest and possession vesting in each joint tenant). Each joint tenant has an undivided right to possess the whole property and a proportionate right of equal ownership interest. When one joint tenant dies, his/her interest automatically vests in the surviving joint tenant(s) by operation of law. Words in the deed such as "John and Mary, as joint tenants with right of survivorship and not as tenants in common" establishes title in joint tenancy. Not all the states allow this form of property ownership.
(2) Tenancy in the Entirety: some states have a special form of joint tenancy when the joint tenants are husband and wife -- with each owning one-half. Neither spouse can sell the property without the consent of the other. Words in the deed such as "John and Mary, husband and wife as tenancy in the entirety" establishes title in tenancy by the entireties.
(3) Sole Ownership: owned entirely by one person. Words in the deed such as "John, a single man" establishes title as sole ownership.
(4) Tenants in Common: property owned by two or more persons at the same time. The proportionate interests and right to possess and enjoy the property between the tenants in common do not have to be equal. Upon death, the decedent' s interest passes to his/her heirs named in the will who then become new tenants in common with the surviving tenants in common. Words in the deed such as "Peter, Paul, John and Mary as tenants in common" establishes tenancy in common.
(5) Community Property: only in states that recognize community property, a special form of joint tenancy between husband and wife, each owning one-half. Upon death, the decedent's interest passes in a manner similar to tenants in common. Words in the deed such as "John and Mary, husband and wife as community property" establishes community property ownership.