A joint tenancy is a type of property ownership. It can be used for both real and personal property. In a joint tenancy, each joint tenant has an undivided, complete interest in the property. This means that each joint tenant has full rights to occupy or use the property in its entirety. A joint tenancy also includes a right of survivorship, so if one owner dies, the other takes a full and automatic ownership interest in the property. A joint tenancy is broken if one owner gives away or sells his or her interest. When this happens, the tenancy converts to a tenancy in common, thus eliminating the right of survivorship.
Joint wills are rare. A joint will is one will that is intended to be the individual will of two or more people.
Many people set up joint bank accounts with a spouse or another close family member or friend. If the bank account shared with another has a “right of survivorship” clause, it typically serves as evidence of a gift of the remaining money in the account to the surviving person on the account. Therefore it is not an asset of the estate and the contents of the account cannot be passed through a will. In this way, it would be like a non-probate asset. Many states, though, allow evidence during the probate process that the creation of a joint account was merely for convenience purposes and no gift of the remaining funds in the account was intended. If the probate court agrees, then the account’s assets would be part of the estate and could pass to the beneficiaries.