real property

The difference between joint tenants and tenants in common

You own property with another person and you are in the process of making a Will.

Of course, you want your interest in the property to go to your intended beneficiaries.

Your solicitor asks you if you own the property as “joint tenants” or as “tenants in common“. You stop and think…

Until now, you had no idea that there was any difference between joint tenants and tenants in common and had probably never considered it.

The concepts are the same for any asset, but are more commonly used in relation to land. So what is the difference?

What is tenants in common?

The simplest way to think about owning real estate (or real property) as tenants in common is that each owner has a legal interest in the land in a defined or specific share or proportion.

For example, the phrase “as tenants in common in equal shares” means that each owner has an equal interest in the land (so in the case of 2 owners, they each hold a 50% interest and in the case of 3 owners, they each hold a 1/3 interest).

Where property is owned as tenants in common but in unequal shares, the proportion of ownership is specifically stated (such as “John Smith as to 1/4 share and Bob Brown as to 3/4 share as tenants in common”).

With tenants in common, each owner (subject of course to any Co-Ownership Agreement or encumbrance such as a Mortgage or Caveat) may freely transfer or dispose of their share of the property, including in their Will when they die.

On their death, their interest in the property will be included in the inventory of property annexed to the grant of Probate or if they don’t have a Will, annexed to the grant of Letters of Administration.

What does joint tenancy mean?

Joint tenants however each own the whole of the relevant asset. The concept is that the co-owners’ ownership of the asset overlaps such that on the death of one joint tenant, the remaining joint tenant/s will continue to hold the whole of the asset. This is known as the “right of survivorship“.

A deceased joint tenant’s interest in the property does not form part of their estate and is not available for distribution to the beneficiaries of that person’s Will. Often this is overlooked by those drafting Wills.

The same principles apply to bank accounts held jointly.

It is for this reason that most married couples (or those in longer term relationships) hold their property or at least their principal place of residence as joint tenants. There are however, sometimes good reasons for holding property differently as part of an overall Estate Plan. Blended families for example often necessitate this right of survivorship not being given effect to so as to more fairly distribute their estate on their death.

Other situations where a joint tenancy may be appropriate for those not in a relationship like marriage is a Lease by parties to a Partnership – the death of one partner would then not necessarily affect the continuation of the Lease.

Severing a joint tenancy

If you hold property as joint tenants with another person it is possible to sever the joint tenancy – which then converts it to a tenancy in common in equal shares.

This can be done unilaterally by lodging the appropriate documentation at NSW Land Registry Services (formerly NSW Land & Property Information and the Land Titles Office) and is often done by lawyers when parties to a marriage or de facto relationship no longer wish for the other party to own the entire property on their death, such as when they separate or get divorced.

Mixed tenancies

It is also possible to have a combination of both a “joint tenancy” and a “tenancy in common“, such as where a property is owned by 2 families. For example,  a husband and wife may own one half of the land but they own it jointly as between them (so that if one passes away, the other continues to own it) and the brother of the husband owns the other half absolutely.

The title to the property would show “John Smith and Mary Smith as joint tenants as to 50% and David Smith as to 50% as tenants in common”.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Craig Pryor is principal solicitor at McKillop Legal. For further information in relation to estate planning, changing the tenancy of a property or documenting a co-habitation or property use agreement, contact Craig Pryor on (02) 9521 2455 or email craig@mckilloplegal.com.au.

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice. Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your needs.

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Forcing the sale of land in NSW

Where land is owned by multiple people (whether as joint tenants or tenants in common), any one of the owners can approach the Supreme Court to seek an order for the appointment of a trustee for sale and for the property to be sold.

Ordinarily, the owners can come to agreement on the need for a sale and the basis on which it is to be conducted. For example, following some negotiations or a mediation, the co-owners may agree to:

  • sale by auction with an agreed reserve price;
  • sale by public treaty with an agreed price; or
  • sale by one owner to another, with agreement on how the price is determined (such as agreeing on a valuer or methodology).

When co-owners are in a dispute however as to whether a property should be sold, when and on what terms, the provisions of section 66G of the Conveyancing Act 1919 (NSW) can be utilized to force the sale of the property, even where the other owner (or owners) do not want to sell it.

Once appointed, the trustee has the legal power to sell the property on the best terms available and to engage real estate agents, valuers and lawyers/conveyancers as may be required. So as to help ensure that the property sells for fair market value and to avoid any breach of trust allegations from any of the owners for not obtaining the best price possible, it is sensible for a trustee to sell at public auction

A usual order made is that the unsuccessful party (usually the defendant/respondent) pays the plaintiff /applicant’s legal costs. The costs risk arising from litigation (which can be substantial in amount) is usually a key factor in out of court settlements being made.

Applications for the appointment of a statutory trustee for sale are generally only refused in special circumstances, such as where the is a prior agreement not to sell, around the terms of any sale or to sell only when certain conditions are met (which is why any co-ownership agreements ought to be in writing as verbal evidence can be less persuasive).

Usually, after a successful application is made and the property is sold, the proceeds of sale after payment of:

  • any encumbrances (such as mortgages and unregistered mortgages secured by caveats);
  • the costs of sale (real estate agent and auctioneer fees and marketing costs etc); and
  • the trustee’s costs

are held on trust by the appointed trustee and then distributed proportionally according to ownership.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Craig Pryor is principal solicitor at McKillop Legal. For further information in relation to family disagreements in relation to land or estates or any business or commercial dispute, contact Craig Pryor on (02) 9521 2455 or email craig@mckilloplegal.com.au.

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice. Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your legal needs.

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SMSF owns property. Member dies. Oh oh!

Do you, like many Australians, have a self managed superannuation fund (SMSF)?

If you want to own direct investments within your superannuation or have greater control of your superannuation portfolio, a SMSF can be a suitable alternative to retail superannuation funds.

SOME ADVANTAGES OF SMSFs

SMSFs have:

  • direct investment choice
  • access to wholesale managed funds
  • the benefit of being able to combine the superannuation balances of up to 4 people
  • the advantage of 15% taxation on investment earnings (as opposed to marginal or company tax rates) and potentially reduced capital gains tax
  • the ability to assist with estate planning and possibly for non-lapsing binding death benefit nominations

DIRECT PROPERTY

Often seen as a key advantage is the ability of an SMSF to invest in direct property, such as owning office or factory space from which a business operates from (assuming your SMSF’s Investment Strategy allows for direct property).

Where member balances are insufficient to buy a property outright, SMSFs can also borrow but only using a limited recourse borrowing arrangement (LRBA) using a bare trustee that holds the property on behalf of the SMSF for the duration of the loan and once the debt is paid, the legal ownership of the property passes to the SMSF.

Property values hopefully go up over the next 20 or so years and the members benefit from and can live happily off the benefits during retirement …

… well that’s the plan anyway. So, what happens if a member dies or gets really sick a few years into the plan? (hint – it can ruin everything, for the other members).

CONSEQUENCES OF DEATH OR TPD

On the death of a member, that member’s superannuation balance is to be paid out (to the member’s estate of their nominated beneficiary/ies) as soon as is practicable.

On the total and permanent disablement (TPD) of a member, the member may be able to exit from the SMSF and call for their member balance to be paid out.

… but if the SMSF’s cash is all tied up in the property and the property is still subject to the LRBA, where does the money come from to pay out the member balance?

The property may have to be sold to fund this! That is, unless there is a SMSF Member Death & TPD Exit Deed in place.

SMSF MEMBER DEATH & TPD EXIT DEED

A SMSF Member Death & TPD Exit Deed can help in reducing the financial effects arising from the unexpected death or TPD of a member by for example:

  • requiring the SMSF members to effect a life insurance policy over the lives of the other members and where there is a death and a payout under the policy, the policy owners contribute funds to the SMSF with the intention of paying out the deceased member’s superannuation balance (and using any remainder to reduce or pay out any debt on the property under the LRBA); and
  • requiring the SMSF members to either put in place appropriate TPD cover or to agree that on the occurrence of a TPD event of a member, that member may remain a passive investor in the SMSF but cannot immediately call for payment of their member balance, even if they would otherwise be entitled to under the superannuation legislation, but rather, if they want the payment, their member balance is to be paid out over several years (ie, from the SMSF’s cashflow).

Unless there are appropriate insurances in place or an agreement for members to only get paid out benefits over time in the event of a TPD event, then the likely outcome of the death or TPD of one member is the sale of the SMSF’s property.

This can be a particularly bad problem if the SMSF has only recently acquired the property and had therefore incurred all of the legal, financial planning and accounting costs as well as stamp duty, but had no time for the asset to generate income or appreciate in value. The death or TPD of the one member therefore affects up to 3 other members who may not even be related to the affected member!

FURTHER INFORMATION

Craig Pryor is principal solicitor at McKillop Legal. For further information in relation to estate planning, business succession, superannuation or SMSFs, contact Craig Pryor on (02) 9521 2455 or email craig@mckilloplegal.com.au.

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice. Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your needs.

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SMSF owns property. Member dies. Oh oh!