The following is not legal advice but simply a description of some of the different methods that title can be held in real estate.

Sole Ownership

Sole ownership is the first way to hold title. This is ownership by an individual or entity legally capable of holding the title and they own 100% of the property, less the value of any property liens. Sole ownership can be held several ways. If you are unmarried you can hold sole title as: an unmarried man or unmarried woman or a single man or single woman. While single man seems the same as unmarried man, some title company personnel insists that unmarried means now single but previously married while single means single and never married.

Sole and Separate Property

A person may also be married but hold sole and separate property in their name only. Laws vary between states, but, generally, a person may hold sole and separate title to property, even if married, if the property was owned prior to marriage, purchased from separately owned money, or inherited as sole and separate property. A prenuptial agreement can also identify separate property. Even if property in marriage begins as sole and separate it can become community or joint property if separate assets are mingled. For example, if the mortgage on a separate property is paid with community money, or if separate bank accounts are merged, the property can become community. If single, no further research may be necessary. However, if you are married and trying to keep title separate, you should consult an attorney with expertise on state laws for the state you reside in.

Community Property

Community property is a form of vesting title to property owned together by married persons or by domestic partners. This is used only in community property states. Any property acquired during marriage using marital assets is generally considered community property in these states. Community assets are owned 50% each. As mentioned above, property owned separately, prior to marriage, can also be converted to community property using a quitclaim deed. They can also be mingled, in some cases unintentionally, resulting in all or part of the formally separate property to become community property. Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin are community property states. Since all such property is owned equally, both parties must sign all agreements and documents transferring the property or to use it as security for a loan. Each owner has the right to dispose of his or her 1/2 of the Community property by a will. When property is held in this manner, without rights of survivorship, probate proceedings are usually required upon the death of one of the owners unless a survivorship clause exists.

Joint Tenancy

Joint tenancy is a form of vesting title to property owned by two or more persons. No party in the ownership needs to be married or related. All owners must take ownership of the property in equal percentages. When one owner dies, their interest is divided equally among the surviving owner(s), thus avoiding probate. As with other forms of title vesting, a quitclaim deed can be used to create a joint tenancy when a property is acquired or to add an owner after, either due to marriage or some other reason. Joint tenancy is used for marital assets in states not using community property and can be used in community property states as well. Joint tenancy as often includes right of survivorship. This means that if one joint tenant dies, their interest reverts to the other joint tenants. This can be identified on the quitclaim deed, for example, as joints tenant with rights of survivorship to eliminate any uncertainty as to the intent of the parties. Laws vary on joint tenancy and rights of survivorship by state, so additional local research should be done for your state to determine if this is the right form of title for your needs.

Tenants in Common

Tenants in common is another way to hold title when there are at least two owners. Unlike community property or joint tenancy, the ownership interest does not need to be equal. The biggest difference between tenants in common and joint tenants is there are no rights of survivorship. In other words, if one tenant in common dies, their interest passes on to their heirs, either by will, trust, or intestate (without a will). This form of title vesting is often useful for non-married investment partners in real estate. Each co-tenant may sell, lease, or will to their heirs that share of the property belonging to him or her.

Tenancy by the Entirety

Another form of title vesting is tenancy by the entirety. This method can only be used when owners are legally married. This is similar to joint tenancy between husband and wife, but each spouse owns the entire property rather than half. The couple is considered one person for legal purposes. No one spouse can sell any portion of the property without the consent of the other. A benefit of this form of title vesting is that if a creditor is owed money by one of the owners, the creditor cannot collect against the property unless the spouse dies who does not owe the creditor. There is no need for a will. If one person dies the title is transferred to the surviving spouse with no probate required. However, if one spouse becomes unavailable or incompetent, it can be difficult for the other spouse to sell the property under this form of title vesting.