Survivorship and full estate administration

There are two ways assets can be passed on.

One is via survivorship. This is where the asset is jointly owned by two or more people (a house for example). It automatically passes on to the surviving owner through joint tenancy.

The other is through full estate administration. This is where the assets are fully owned by the deceased and passed on in accordance with their wishes.

Joint tenancy

Joint tenancy is a form of property co-ownership in which each owner’s interest is the same. Assets held in joint tenancy can include:

  • property
  • bank accounts
  • shares
  • death benefits from pension funds
  • proceeds of life insurance policies.

If these assets are jointly owned, they are not included in the estate of the first person who dies. Even though the legal ownership passes to the survivor, there are tasks and paperwork to be undertaken to legally confirm the change in ownership.

A number of rules apply to joint tenancy.

The joint ownership must be created at the same time, by the same document.

Each owner has the same rights and responsibilities relating to the property.

One of the key aspects is the ‘right of survivorship’. This means the property passes to the surviving owner or owners without them having to wait for the will to be administered.

Joint tenancy is not tenancy-in-common

In a joint tenancy, the deceased’s interest in the asset automatically passes to the surviving owner or owners.

In a tenancy-in-common, the interest or share of the asset is held separately. Each person who owns a share of the asset can pass on their interest in the title to the person they choose.

What is full estate administration?

Estate administration is the process of managing a person’s will and distributing their assets. Their estate only covers the assets owned by them in their own name. It does not apply to assets held in joint tenancy.

All estates are different

If there is a will, the estate is administered according to the will.

If there is no will, the estate is administered according to a legal formula. This formula specifies who benefits from the estate.

Depending on the nature and ownership of assets, different procedures for transferring those assets may be required. As a result, there are different procedures for transferring those assets. This can vary if a legal claim is made against the estate. Or where the estate’s debts exceed the estate’s assets. State Trustees understands the complexities of estate administration.

Have a question?

We can provide impartial obligation-free advice about your role as an executor.

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If you are an executor, and you have any questions at all about the estate or its assets, we recommend you seek expert advice before finalising the estate.