Joint tenancy is a form of legal co-ownership of property which includes a right to survivorship. With a right to survivorship, at the death of one co-owner the surviving co-owner(s) obtain the deceased's interest in the property (in equal shares, if more than one surviving co-owner). It is sometimes referred to as "joint tenancy with right of survivorship" or abbreviated JTWROS.
It is most common in real estate, but any asset can be held as such (bank accounts are another common asset held in a joint tenancy).
A joint tenancy is created where all the co-owners share four "unities":
- Time - the property must be acquired by all the co-owners at the same time.
- Title - all co-owners must acquire the property from the same document.
- Interest - each and every co-owner must own the same share of the property, and with the same restrictions or conditions, as the others.
- Possession - each and every co-owner must have the same right to possess and use the entire property as the others.
For example, a parent dies, leaving in his will his interest in the family home to his three children equally. The siblings all acquired the property via the will ("title") at the time it was probated ("time"), each acquired an undivided 1/3 share ("interest") and each can occupy and use the property as desired ("possession").
If at any time one co-owner sells his/her interest apart from the other, the joint tenancy ends and converts to a tenancy in common.
A tenancy by the entirety is a special form of joint tenancy, limited to property owned by a husband and wife, which works in the same manner.