Joint Ownership means that you own property together with one or more other persons. Because these kinds of assets are not in your name alone, the distribution after your death is usually not controlled by your Last Will and Testament or your Trust, but instead by operation of law. This means that, upon your death, these assets will instantly and automatically belong to the other person or persons who jointly own them with you.
There are three ways that two or more people may own one property at the same time:
1. Joint Tenants with Rights of Survivorship
2. Tenants by the Entirety
3. Tenants in Common
Joint Tenants with Rights of Survivorship is the form of joint ownership which specifies that when one owner dies, the surviving owner or owners automatically receive the deceased owner’s share. For example, a mother may decide to add her daughter to her bank account and designate ownership as Joint Tenants with Rights of Survivorship. While the mother is alive, both mother and daughter own the account equally and either may transact business alone. If mother passes away, the bank account remains owned only by the daughter.
Tenants by the Entirety is a form of ownership available in Virginia only to married couples. Tenancy by the Entirety means that each owner has an undivided interest in the whole asset. Neither owner may sell, transfer, or encumber the asset alone. This form of ownership requires the signature of all the owners to sell or gift. Traditionally, husbands and wives own property jointly in this manner, particularly real estate. One very useful characteristic of tenancy by the entirety is that if one of the co-owners loses a civil lawsuit resulting in a judgment against him, property held as a tenancy by the entirety is not available to the judgment creditor. By statute, Virginia law also allows ownership of personal property, for example, bank accounts, as a tenancy by the entirety. When one spouse dies, the other spouse becomes the sole owner of the property, without the need to go through probate.