How does a multi-owner deed work when someone passes away?

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How does a multi-owner deed work when someone passes away?

The deed has 3 names. Only 1 person is still living. 1 of the persons had a Will and left their portion to the 1 person who is still living. The other person passed away and had no Will. Is his spouse the beneficiary? What steps need to take place to start getting the deed straightened out? Does this need to go through probate court? Should they speak to a real estate or probate attorney? In Columbia County, PA.

Asked on February 20, 2011 under Real Estate Law, Pennsylvania

Answers:

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

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

There are several ways that a multi-owner deed can read.  If the owners were listed as "tenants in common" (TIC), then when they die their beneficiaries/heirs are entitled to their share of the property.  However, if the owners held title as "joint tenants with right of survivor ship" (JTWROS), then upon the death of any owner, their share would automatically pass to the surviving co-owners.

In your situation, when the first co-owner died, they Willed their share.  This may or may not have been appropriate.  If title was held as TIC then it could be Willed; if not then it was held as JTWROS and accordingly that share should have passed to the surviving owners.  The same process holds true for the second deceased owner's share (only instead of their share being Willed it would pass via "intestate succession" since there was no Will). 

Additionally, if the title was held as JTWROS, then probate is not needed; if it was held as TIC then each deceased owner's share would become assets of the probate estate. Since you didn't specify how the title reads, and since several potential estates are involved, you really need to consult directly with a probate or real estate attorney.  They can best advise you as to handle this situation.

Note:  There are other ways that title can be held but these are the 2 most common.


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