The potentially legal nightmare of jointly owning property

Published: 14/02/2012

Buying a property with someone is a very exciting time. However, amongst all the excitement, there is also great level of responsibility that comes with jointly owning property and it is essential that you hold the property in a way that best suits your circumstance in order to avoid a potentially complex legal situation, as the recent case involving former English cricketer, Geoffrey Boycott, demonstrated.

In 1996, the cricketer-turned-commentator purchased a property with his lover Anne Wyatt. The property was held in a Beneficial Joint Tenancy meaning that if either Boycott or Wyatt died, his or her interest in the property would automatically pass to the survivor. This would happen by operation of law i.e. no need to obtain Probate. Each owner holds the property jointly – there are no shares as such. Each owner is treated as having equal interests in the property.

Ms. Wyatt continued to live in the Sandbanks property alone until she died in 2009. Given their initial agreement, Boycott expected to automatically get her interest in the property when she died. This was not the case.

In 2007, two years prior to her death, Ms. Wyatt severed the Joint Tenancy which any tenant is allowed to do at any point without the need for consent from the other owner. By severing the Joint Tenancy, the property is then automatically held as Tenants in Common on a 50/50 basis which allows the owners to leave their 50% interests to whomever they wish. In Ms. Wyatt’s case, she left her half of the house to her niece.

Despite claiming he had no knowledge that the Joint Tenancy had been severed, Boycott lost his case and half the house.

It is vital for people owning property together to hold the property in the most appropriate way for them. For example, if one person has contributed more to the deposit or is paying more towards the repayments, a Tenancy in Common agreement would be more suitable than a couple who have paid for everything 50/50. Similarly, someone with children from a previous relationship may prefer to hold the property as Tenants in Common so they can leave their share to their children. A beneficial joint tenancy is adopted mostly by married couples or civil partners although it is not compulsory to do so.

Content correct at time of publication

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