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Trusts & Estates Blog

What Kind Of Property Owner Are You?

Authored by Shanna N. Yonke
Shanna N. Yonke
Attorney
Wausau Office

Posted on December 28, 2018
Filed under Trusts & Estates

You might own a house.  Maybe you own a cabin or cottage, hunting or farm land, or other properties as well.  Regardless of the type of property that you own, the previous owner of the property gave you a deed when you bought the property.  If you bought the property by yourself, the deed named you as the new owner of the property.  If you purchased the property with your spouse or others, the deed named you as a co-owner of the property.

There are a few different kinds of property ownership in Wisconsin.  Each type of ownership gives the owner different rights and obligations.  What kind of property owner are you?

Sole Owner

Your deed might identify you in the following ways:

  • John Doe
  • John Doe, a single man
  • John Doe, a married man, as his individual property

As the only owner, you have the sole right to occupy, lease, convey, sell, mortgage, devise, and otherwise deal with the property.  You also are the only person obligated to pay property taxes and maintain the property, among other obligations.

Joint Tenant

Your deed might identify you in the following ways:

  • John Doe and Jane Doe, husband and wife
  • John Doe and Jane Doe, as joint tenants (with rights of survivorship)
  • John Doe and Jane Doe, as joint owners
  • John Doe and Jane Doe, jointly
  • John Doe and Jane Doe, or the survivor
  • John Doe and Jane Doe, with rights of survivorship

You are a joint tenant if you own an equal interest in a property with one or more other people, regardless of whether each person contributed the same amount of money to buy the property.  Also, if you are married, you and your spouse buy the property together, and your deed does not say what kind of property owner you are, then Wisconsin law states that you and your spouse are joint tenants.  You and the other joint tenant(s) share all of the rights and obligations of property ownership.

If a joint tenant sells or transfers his or her interest in the property, the joint tenancy ends and the property owners become tenants in common (see below).

On the death of a joint tenant, the deceased joint tenant can’t give away his or her interest in the property.  Instead, the deceased owner’s interest automatically passes to the remaining joint tenant(s).  In legal lingo, we call this a “right of survivorship.”

Tenant in Common

Your deed might identify you in the following ways:

  • John Doe and Jane Doe, as tenants in common
  • John Doe, Jane Doe, and John Smith, as tenants in common
  • John Doe, a single man, as to an undivided three-fourths (3/4ths) interest, and John Smith, a single man, as to an undivided one-fourth (1/4th) interest, as tenants in common

You are a tenant in common if you own an undivided interest in a property with one or more other people, and your fractional interest in the property is based upon the amount you contributed to buy the property.  You and the other tenant(s) in common share all of the rights and obligations of property ownership in proportion to your fractional interest in the property.

In Wisconsin, spouses can choose to buy property as tenants in common.  Recall that the default form of property ownership for spouses in Wisconsin is joint tenancy.  In order to own property as tenants in common, spouses need to make sure that the deed identifies them as tenants in common.  If you are married, consider discussing why you might consider owning property as tenants in common with your Ruder Ware attorney.

A tenant in common can sell or transfer his or her interest in the property, and the new owner or owners become tenant(s) in common with the other owner(s).

On the death of a tenant in common, there is no right of survivorship in the remaining tenant(s) in common.  The deceased tenant can give away his or her interest in the property to whomever he or she desires (including the other tenant(s) in common), and the new owner or owners become additional tenant(s) in common.