right of survivorship

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Under the right of survivorship, each tenant possesses an undivided interest in the whole estate. When one tenant dies, the tenant’s interest disappears and the others tenants’ shares increase proportionally and obtain the rights to the entire estate.

There are two types of tenancies that possess the right of survivorship: joint tenancy and tenancy by the entirety. The right of survivorship in a joint tenancy may be severed, converting the estate to a tenancy in common, by means of partition (voluntary or involuntary); a conveyance by one joint tenant; agreement of joint tenants; murder of one joint tenant by the other; or the simultaneous deaths of joint tenants. 

The right of survivorship in a tenancy by the entirety may be severed by divorce, mutual agreement, or execution by a joint creditor. In a tenancy by the entirety, the right of survivorship cannot be terminated by an involuntary partition.

Tenants with right of survivorship are not obligated to continue a concurrent ownership and are not required to sell only their interests to sell themselves from the co-tenancy. Rather, the tenant has an absolute right to petition a court to partition the property if both tenants have concurrent possessory rights. However, neither spouse can seek partition of a property held in a tenancy by the entirety. 

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