Estate by Entirety

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An estate by entirety–also called tenancy by the entirety–is a type of property ownership unique to spouses. Under this form of ownership, if a married couple purchases property together, each has an equal, undivided interest in the joint property. One benefit of this structure is the right of survivorship, meaning that a surviving spouse automatically absorbs the interest of their deceased spouse without the need for a probate process. Another benefit is that estate by entirety structures prevent creditors from attaching liens on jointly owned property if the debt belongs to only one spouse. 

Estates by entirety have some restrictions. Regardless of how much money each spouse contributes to the property’s purchase, spouses own the property equally and undivided. As such, one spouse could not grant their share in the property to an heir in a will, as the surviving spouse would automatically gain total ownership of the property. Additionally, one spouse could not transfer their interest in the property without the approval of the other.

Estates by entirety share many features of a joint tenancy, though joint tenancies are disfavored by courts and are dissolved more easily. While estates by entirety might be terminated by one spouse’s death, they can also dissolve upon divorce or by the agreement of both spouses. At this point, the owners become tenants in common.

[Last updated in August of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team]