One of the most common techniques used to keep homes and other properties out of probate is a joint tenancy with right of survivorship (JTWROS) agreement. To understand JTWROS, you need to first understand joint tenancy, which means that two or more people have made an arrangement to hold or own property together. Each individual named in the tenancy has an equal stake in ownership. Understanding joint tenancy Kavesh Minor & Otis

The Right of Survivorship

When one owner dies, their share passes on to the remaining owner or owners. If there’s more than one stakeholder, the deceased’s holding is distributed among the surviving owners. This transfer of property is known as the “right of survivorship.”

Because joint tenancy agreements allow property to be owned by more than one individual and include provisions for the transference of property after death, JTWROS arrangements are common among people who want to keep potential heirs out of probate court. Spouses frequently name one another as joint tenants.

JTWROS Agreements Can Have Disadvantages

JTWROS agreements aren’t without drawbacks. While the tenant might simply name another owner, doing so risks opening an estate or assets to the risks of another owner’s current or future debts, bankruptcies, divorces, and lawsuits. But there is another, better way to keep your assets private and heirs protected.

Living Trusts Are a Common Alternative

It’s often wiser to set up a living trust instead of a joint tenancy arrangement. Trusts have some benefits over tenancy agreements:

  • They’re revokable
  • They let you add, remove, and adjust assets
  • They let you decide who gets what, and you’re entitled to name an executor who distributes your assets

Just like joint tenancy arrangements, living trusts let your heirs avoid probate. When they’re well written, they also include credit by-passes, taxation provisions, and other measures to ensure your assets go exactly where you want them.


Philip J. Kavesh
Nationally recognized attorney helping clients with customized estate planning guidance for over 40 years.