Multiple Owners of Real Estate

Posted by Joshua R. Cook, on October 2, 2015

Several people can own interests in a piece of land at the same time.  The legal relationships and rights of the owners depend on how they hold title.  Generally, joint owners hold title to the real estate in one of the following ways:

  1. Tenancy in common – each owner has an undivided interest in the real estate and a right to possess it.
  2. Joint tenancy – this is similar to a tenancy in common, except there is usually a right of survivorship with this type of ownership.
  3. Tenancy by the entirety – this category only applies to married couples and is similar to a joint tenancy; however, owners in this category have more rights and protections than owners in a joint tenancy.
  4. Life estate with a remainder interest – the owner of the life estate interest has the right to possess the real estate during his or her life; upon the life estate owner’s death, the owners of the remainder interests have the right to possess the real estate.

A common issue with joint ownership arises when a joint owner dies – what happens to the deceased owner’s ownership interest?  Generally, the deceased owner’s interest passes to the following:

Tenancy in common: the deceased owner’s heirs (e.g., children)
Joint tenancy: the other joint owners
Tenancy by the entirety: the surviving spouse
Life estate with a remainder interest: interest of deceased owner of life estate – is extinguished and the owners of the remainder interest take title

interest of deceased owner of the remainder interest– the deceased remainder interest owner’s heirs (e.g., children)

At death, title to property automatically passes from a deceased person to his or her heirs by operation of law[j1] .  However, title records for real estate (the records consist of deeds, affidavits, and other documents recorded in the local county recorder’s office) will continue to show a deceased joint owner of real estate as having an ownership interest in the real estate until the records are updated.  The procedure for updating the title records depends on the type of joint ownership and whether an estate has been opened for the deceased joint owner – it may take a deed or court order to update the records, but sometimes only an affidavit is necessary.

Another common issue arises when one joint owner wants to sell the real estate and another joint owner does not.  Can the joint owner that wants to sell the real estate force a sale?  Usually, yes – a joint owner can generally force the land to be sold without the other owners’ consents by filing a petition to compel partition with a court.


 [j1]IDR v. Estate of Riggs, 735 N.E.2d 340 (Ind. Tax Ct. 2000); IC 29-1-7-23

**Reiling Teder & Schrier, LLC is an Indiana Limited Liability Company. The information contained in this website has been prepared by Reiling Teder & Schrier, LLC for informational purposes only, and is not legal advice. The information on this website should not be relied upon to make any decision, legal or otherwise. If you have any specific questions or inquiries regarding any of the information contained in this website, you should consult with an attorney licensed in your state. The information contained in this website pertains only to matters of Indiana law and the laws of other states may be completely different from the laws of the State of Indiana.