Is it legal for a joint tenant with right of survivorship to quitclaim deed their portion of the property to themselves in order to break the joint tenancy?

I was a joint tenant with full right of survivorship on a property in IA with my aunt since 2003. Back in 2008, she tried to quitclaim deed her portion of the property to herself to break the joint tenancy. She died a month ago. I filed an affidavit of surviving joint tenant and her name was taken off title. Her estate was opened and the estate attorney claims that her estate has an interest in the property. I’ve researched the issue and could not find any case law or Iowa code to support the validity of a joint tenant quitclaiming their interest in a property to themselves to break a joint tenancy.

Asked on September 8, 2010 under Real Estate Law, Iowa


M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

In order for a joint tenancy to exist, four conditions, or unities, must be met:

  • All tenants acquired the property at the same time
  • All tenants have an equal interest in the property
  • All tenants acquired title by the same deed or will
  • All tenants have an equal right to possession

If any one of the four unities has not been met, or if it is unclear whether a joint tenancy has been formed, most courts will presume that the more favored tenancy in common has been formed.

In order to terminate a joint tenancy, one of the four unities must be destroyed.  You may do this by conveying your joint tenancy interest to any third person.  This can be done through gift or sale.  Upon termination, a tenancy in common is formed between the third person and the remaining co-tenant(s).  A joint tenant may transfer their interest unilaterally and without the knowledge or consent of the co-tenant(s). 

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