Is Probate Necessary When a House was Jointly Titled?

Properties which were jointly titled with another person can create confusion for families who have lost a loved one. It is common for family members to pass away leaving property that was co-owned with another person. We are often asked What should be done with estate property that was co-owned with another person?


Who has rights to jointly owned property?


Rights to jointly titled property (co-owned) at the time of passing depends upon how the property was titled. This is a critical question for the heirs to a deceased person’s estate because the heirs’ interest in the property depends on this titling.


Below are the three most common ways to title property and how the heirs’ rights are affected.



  1. Property that was co-owned with a spouse.


If the co-owner of the property was a spouse, the property passes automatically to the spouse. The spouses must have been legally married (unless the now-defunct “common law marriage” applies) and the property held as tenants by the entireties. Spousal property passes automatically to the surviving spouse by operation of law. The heirs or beneficiaries to the deceased person’s estate have no claim to the property.


  1. Property that was titled as a joint tenancy with a right of survivorship.


Property can be owned by two or more people as a joint tenancy with a right of survivorship (abbreviated “JTROS”). Similar to spousal property, property titled as JTROS also passes automatically to the co-owners upon passing. But unlike spousal property, the co-owners do not have to be married. The language of the deed determines whether there is a JTROS.


One implication of a right of survivorship is that if a family member co-owns a property with another family member, the deceased person’s heirs do not receive a share and probate is not required. However, a property transferred to a family member through a JTROS is still subject to Pennsylvania inheritance taxes.


  1. Property that was titled as tenants in common.


The most common form of property ownership is tenants in common. Tenants in common means that each owner has a share in the property which does not pass to the other owners upon death. In this case, the surviving co-owner becomes a co-owner of the heirs to the deceased person’s estate.


What must be done to sell a property co-owned by a deceased person?


A partial share of property that passes to the deceased’s heirs must go through probate. This process, also called estate administration, involves appointing an estate representative and settling the legal affairs. The property cannot be sold or bought-out by the surviving co-owners without going through probate. All heirs must sign the deed for either a sale or buy out. If any heir refuses to cooperate, the transfer cannot proceed to closing.


As a probate law firm for estate executors, we help settle estates efficiently and reduce stress. If you know someone faced with a probate process or roadblocks to an estate property sale, please have them contact us for a free evaluation at:


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