Q: My father bought three acres in Missouri. He paid for the land with his own money. The property was titled in his name as a “single person” along with my cousin and my wife’s cousin as “a married couple.” Everyone is listed as joint tenants with rights of survivorship.

My father later severed the joint tenancy to tenancy in common. Recently, my father quit claimed his interest to me. I bought a title insurance commitment on the lot and they reported it to the county by stating that I, my cousin and my cousin’s wife own the property as tenants in common.

Do I own one-third of the lot or one-half?

A: Good question. Unless the documents specifically designate the percentage owned by each of you, under many states’ laws, you will all be deemed to own the property in equal shares. That would mean that your father, your cousin and your cousin’s wife might have all owned one-third shares of the property. You, in turn, would mean that you own a one-third share in the land.

If the documentation shows that your cousin and his cousin’s wife got a one-half share of the property in the document that severed the joint tenancy, you would own a one-half share.

Joint Tenancy With Rights of Survivorship

In general, joint tenancy with rights of survivorship assumes that each owner of the property is an equal owner. That said, later documentation can break joint tenancy and the parties can decide how to hold title to the property and in what shares.

The key to your question will be how your father broke the joint tenancy. If the owners all got together and broke the joint tenancy by signing a new deed, you need to get a copy of that deed to see what language they used to convey title from all of them to all of them.

At that point you can determine if you own one-third, one-half or some other percentage of the property.

Published: Oct 9, 2008