In Alberta, the owner of all real property (ie. real estate) must be registered with the Land Titles Office. The property can be owned as either joint tenants or tenants in common. Most commonly seen for residential home owners is joint tenants. Joint tenants are equal owners of the property. If you purchased a home with your spouse, it is likely you own the property as joint tenants.
One of the implications of a joint tenancy is the right of survivorship. When one of the owners passes away, the property flows directly to the surviving owner. For example, if a husband and wife jointly own a home, and the husband passes away, the home will go into the wife’s name and be her home solely.
Impact of Joint Tenancy with Right of Survivorship
In the example above, as the home went into the wife’s name solely, it has bypassed the husband’s estate. If the husband has a Will that outlines who will receive his assets when he dies, the house will not be included in that division as the house belongs to the wife. This also results in the house avoiding the need for the Will to be probated.
In many situations, including when a couple is together, this transfer of the house directly to the wife may be desirable. In many other situations however, it may be unintended and have significant consequences. If a property is owned by two business partners, as joint tenants with a right of survivorship, it may not be intended that the surviving business partner will receive the entirety of the property. In that situation, it may not be appropriate for the property to be owned as joint tenants with a right of survivorship, but instead held as tenants in common or through a separate vehicle, like a corporation.
Some other assets, like bank and investment accounts, can also be held in joint tenancy with a right of survivorship. It is important that you review the ownership status of your assets, especially major ones like real estate, to ensure the ownership is as you intended. It is prudent for any person, even with a modest estate, to do some estate planning to ensure their assets will go to those they intended to. Speaking to a lawyer that practices in estate planning can assist you in ensuring your assets are distributed as you intended.
Written by Michael Ross