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Revocable Living Trust: A Solution to the Problem of Joint Ownership

By Melissa G. Nolan

A revocable living trust holds a person’s property and determines how it is distributed. The “grantor” of the trust is the person who creates the trust and usually serves as the trustee during his or her lifetime. Since the trust is created during the grantor’s lifetime, it is considered “living” and the grantor reserves the right to amend or revoke it, which is why it is classified as “revocable.”

There are several benefits associated with establishing a revocable living trust. First, property held in a revocable living trust at the time of the grantor’s death is not subject to probate administration. Probate is a costly and lengthy court process. Often, people hold property in joint ownership to avoid probate. There are two types of joint ownership: tenants in common and joint tenants with right of survivorship. Holding property as tenants in common divides the property in half and each owner owns his or her ½ of the property. Upon the death of one owner, that person’s share will be subject to probate administration. In contrast, holding property as joint tenants with right of survivorship avoids probate by automatically passing the ownership of all of the property to the surviving owner upon the first owner’s death. However, the property will then be subject to probate administration on the death of the second owner.

When property is jointly owned by a married couple, it is presumed to be held as joint tenants with right of survivorship, avoiding probate on the first death. However, any property owned jointly by unmarried individuals is presumed to be owned as tenants and common, and will be subject to probate administration twice – on the death of the first owner, and again on the death of the second owner.

Fortunately, there is a solution to this predicament. Creating a revocable living trust and placing jointly owned property into the trust solves the probate problem. When you establish a revocable living trust, the property may be left to whomever you desire, without the cost and hassle of a probate administration. You should speak with an estate planning attorney now to properly plan your estate in order to save your heirs valuable time and money.


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