As I repeatedly tell my clients and have probably written many times in the past, titling is key to an estate plan. This specifically relates to ownership of an asset and who and how an owner is listed on that property. Recently, I had a client ask for a bit more information on what the different types of joint ownership are and she suggested I share that in my blog. So here you go.
In Missouri there are three types of joint ownership. The first is “Tenants in Common”. This is the default ownership for multiple owners unless you specific otherwise. This means that the owners each own their share as an individual. If one owner dies, their share passes as they designate. This could necessitate probate if proper planning has not occurred. This form of ownership also does not protect the owners from the creditor of any other owners. So if one owner owes money or is sued, that debt could be imposed upon the joint property.
“Joint Tenants with Right of Survivorship” or “JTWROS” is the second form of joint ownership. If property has this designation, it means the property will pass to the last surviving owner upon the other owner’s death. This is a great way to avoid probate if the surviving owner is meant to receive the entire property. However, this is not always the best solution. For example, if the children are listed as JTWROS, but the grandchildren should inherit their parent’s share if the parent passes before them, it may defeat the intent. This ownership also exposes the property to the each individual’s owner liability like Tenants in Common (where the property may be subject to the other owner’s debts).
Because of the liability risks Tenants in Common and JTWROS cause allowing one owner’s creditors access to the assets, I often consult against these forms of ownership.
However, the final form of ownership, “Tenancy by the Entirety” does not have this risk. In Missouri, Tenancy by the Entirety is the only form of ownership where the creditors of one owner may not access the joint property. This ownership can only be between a husband and wife. Further, the property has to be titled during the marriage. If the asset is titled in the owners’ name before the marriage, the property has to be retitled to obtain Tenancy by the Entirety.
While this might give you a guide to how your assets are titled, the best way to guarantee your assets are in a form of ownership that meets your needs is to consult with an attorney.