Right of survivorship is essentially the power of the successor(s) of a deceased individual to acquire the property of the deceased upon his or her death. In other words, the right of survivorship determines what happens to a certain type of co-owned property after one of its owners dies. The right of survivorship is found only in joint tenancy (defined as a contract between two or more parties specifying their simultaneous ownership of some form of real or personal property such as a house, land, or money).

A right of survivorship deed (in Michigan you will see the words “joint tenants with full rights of survivorship”, “JTWROS” or similar language) is designed to preserve ownership within a specific and exclusive group of individuals. Although they’re most often invoked by surviving spouses who had jointly owned real estate with their recently deceased partners, survivorship deeds are often used between groups of joint tenants to enforce the equitable distribution of deceased tenants’ ownership interests.

Beware of unintended consequences of using a survivorship deed in Michigan. For example, we see many unmarried couples purchasing real estate as “joint tenants with full rights of survivorship”. Under established court cases, it is nearly impossible to “undo” this type of deed without both parties agreeing. So, as we have seen many times, when unmarried couples split up, both sides are unable to sell the property without the other’s consent.  The same is true of property owned among siblings or friends.  Because real estate law is complicated and generally involves a significant financial investment, you should understand all of the consequences of signing a deed before you sign it. The best advice is to be extremely cautious before signing a deed and meet with an experienced attorney who can explain exactly how the deed will affect you now and in the future.

Our office has the knowledge and experience you need to help you understand your choices and make informed decisions. Please contact us online or by phone at (517) 548-7400 in Livingston County and (586) 751-0779 in Macomb County if we may be of assistance.

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