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People who join together to buy real property (a house, flat, land) are known as co-owners. Typically, this may mean a couple in a relationship, whether married, in a civil partnership or cohabiting, or friends, who jointly buy a property to live in. The property may be freehold or leasehold, with or without a mortgage.

There are two ways in which two or more people may hold (own) the underlying benefit in a property – as “beneficial joint tenants” or as “tenants in common”. Beneficial joint tenants do not own specific shares in the property and when one co-owner dies, the survivor(s) automatically inherits the deceased person’s interest. Property owned by tenants in common is owned jointly but each co-owner owns a specific share of its value. Each tenant in common can deal with their share independently; for example, on death their share passes to whoever is entitled under the deceased’s will or intestacy – this will not necessarily be the co-owner.

The way in which a property is to be held should be discussed at the time the property is acquired. Depending on the circumstances, it may be advisable to have a deed of trust to set out respective shares in the property. This may help to prevent disputes at a later date. There are ways in which it is possible to change the way in which a property is held.

Co-ownership has a number of consequences (unless the court orders otherwise). For example, depending on the circumstances, co-owners may generally live in the property and all co-owners must agree to the property being sold. Where there is no agreement, and a dispute arises, it may be necessary to apply to court to resolve the dispute.

Co-ownership is a complex area of law and this note provides only general information. Anyone acquiring a property jointly, or who is involved in a dispute about ownership of a property, should seek legal advice based on the particular circumstances involved.

This note deals with the law in England and Wales.

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