If a property is bought ‘in joint names’ then, technically, it must be held in one of two ways: either as ‘joint tenants’ or as ‘tenants in common’.
Where two people own a property as ‘joint tenants’, if one dies, the other automatically inherits the entire property regardless of what the deceased’s Will might say. Most married couples, without always realizing it, own their property ‘as joint tenants’ and it is usually appropriate for them to do so.
Where a property is owned ‘as tenants in common’, each party owns a separate share or interest in the property which they can pass under their Will. The shares need not be equal shares and the size of them can be recorded in a Declaration of Trust.
If you are unmarried or are contributing purchase monies in unequal amounts, it may be appropriate for you to consider buying as ‘tenants in common’.
If you buy a property as joint tenants it will be possible to convert it to a tenancy in common later by serving a notice called a Notice of Severance on the other joint owner; the presumption will be that the tenancy in common that will be created will be in equal shares.
If you own a property as ‘joint tenants’ and you wish to leave your interest in it to someone other than the person with whom you are a joint owner, then you will need to convert the ownership to a tenancy in common by serving a Notice of Severance at the same time as you make your Will; otherwise, on your death, ownership of the whole property will pass to the surviving joint owner.
It is a routine step when a couple separate for one of them to serve a Notice of Severance if they are joint tenants. Many people will then wish to make a Will under which they can look to pass on their own separate interest in the property; usually this will be to someone other than their spouse and, typically, to the children.