Q: The title to my home is in both my wife and my name as “tenants by the entireties”.

How does this differ from other titles such as “joint tenancy with rights of survivorship” and “tenancy in common”? How does the term “entireties” come about?

A: Tenancy by the entirety is very similar to joint tenancy. You and your spouse (tenancy by the entirety is only available to married couples for their primary residence) each own the entire property. If you die, your spouse would inherit your share just as if you owned the property as joint tenants with rights of survivorship. Tenancy by the entirety has similar rights of survivorship.

One extra benefit of holding your property as tenants by the entirety would come into play if you or your spouse ran up huge debts. If you were sued to pay off those debts, your home would be protected as long as the property is the marital residence (primary property) because you and your spouse each own the whole thing.

While the creditors could attach a lien to the property, they would not be able to force the sale. When the property was sold, then the creditors would be paid out of your share. So you could continue to live in the property.

If you die with numerous debts, your spouse would still own the whole property. While your estate would have to pay back the debts, if you die penniless except for your share in the property, the creditors would be out of luck.

I don’t know how the term “entirety” came about, but my guess is that it is so named because you and your wife each own the entire property.

Some real estate attorneys feel that married couples have even better protection with tenancy by the entirety than with joint tenancy with rights of survivorship.

Published: Nov 14, 2005