Joint Tenancy With Right Of Survivorship Step Up In Basis

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Joint Tenancy With Right of Survivorship: What to Know

Joint Tenancy with Right of Survivorship: Step Up in Basis

In the midst of life’s unexpected twists and turns, estate planning looms as a beacon of foresight, ensuring that our loved ones inherit our legacy seamlessly. Among the various estate planning tools, joint tenancy with right of survivorship stands out as a potent instrument for safeguarding the financial interests of both partners.

This article delves into the intricacies of joint tenancy with right of survivorship, unraveling its historical roots, legal implications, and the significant tax implications associated with “step up in basis.” By understanding this crucial estate planning strategy, you can ensure the smooth and advantageous transfer of assets upon your passing.

The Nature of Joint Tenancy

Defining Joint Tenancy

Joint tenancy is a form of property ownership where two or more individuals hold title to the property jointly, with an equal and undivided interest. The defining characteristic of joint tenancy is the “right of survivorship,” which dictates that upon the death of one joint tenant, their ownership interest automatically transfers to the surviving joint tenant or tenants.

Historical Roots and Legal Implications

Joint tenancy has its origins in medieval England, where it was utilized to ensure the uninterrupted ownership of land by noble families. Today, joint tenancy is recognized in most jurisdictions and offers several advantages, including the avoidance of probate, the simplification of property transfer, and the preservation of asset value.

Step Up in Basis: A Tax Advantage

Significance of Basis

In the realm of taxation, “basis” refers to the original cost or value of an asset. When property is sold, the difference between its basis and the sale price determines the amount of capital gain or loss, which is subject to taxation.

Step Up in Basis for Joint Tenancy

One of the significant tax benefits of joint tenancy is the “step up in basis” upon the death of one joint tenant. Upon the first joint tenant’s passing, the surviving joint tenant or tenants receive a new basis for the property equal to its fair market value as of the date of death. This reset in basis can significantly reduce capital gains taxes if the property is subsequently sold.

Understanding the “Step Up” Process

Inherited Property Basis

In a traditional inheritance scenario, the heir receives the deceased individual’s property with the same basis as the deceased, known as the “carryover basis.” This can lead to substantial capital gains taxes if the property has appreciated in value since its original acquisition.

Joint Tenancy with Step Up in Basis

In contrast, with joint tenancy, the surviving joint tenant or tenants receive a new basis equal to the property’s fair market value at the time of the deceased joint tenant’s death. This “step up” in basis effectively eliminates potential capital gains taxes on the appreciation that occurred during the deceased joint tenant’s lifetime.

Considerations and Expert Advice

Avoiding Estate Taxes

While joint tenancy can reduce capital gains taxes, it does not eliminate estate taxes. The value of the property jointly owned is included in the taxable estate of the first joint tenant to pass away. However, it is important to note that the “step up in basis” still applies to the surviving joint tenant or tenants, mitigating potential estate taxes upon their passing.

Expert Advice: Careful Considerations

Before establishing a joint tenancy, it is crucial to consider the following expert advice:

  • Trust and Compatibility: Joint tenancy is a binding agreement that requires trust and compatibility between the joint tenants.
  • Loss of Control: Once property is placed in joint tenancy, individual control over the asset is relinquished. Joint decisions are required for selling, mortgaging, or making improvements.
  • Potential Disputes: Joint tenancy can lead to conflicts if the joint tenants have different financial goals or priorities.

FAQ: Joint Tenancy and Step Up in Basis

Q: What is the difference between joint tenancy and a trust?
A: A trust is a legal entity that holds title to property for the benefit of designated beneficiaries. Unlike joint tenancy, trusts allow for greater flexibility and control over asset management and distribution.
Q: Can I add or remove joint tenants from joint tenancy?
A: Adding or removing joint tenants requires the consent of all existing joint tenants. It is typically done by creating a new joint tenancy agreement with the desired changes.
Q: What happens if a joint tenant files for bankruptcy?
A: In most jurisdictions, a joint tenancy is not affected by the bankruptcy of one joint tenant. The property remains jointly owned by the remaining joint tenants.


Joint tenancy with right of survivorship is a valuable estate planning tool that offers numerous benefits, including the avoidance of probate, the preservation of property value, and the potential for significant tax savings through step up in basis. While it is not suitable for all individuals or situations, it can be a powerful option for those seeking to simplify property transfer, ensure financial security for surviving loved ones, and minimize future tax burdens.

Are you interested in learning more about joint tenancy with right of survivorship? Consult with an experienced estate planning attorney to determine if this strategy aligns with your financial goals and estate planning objectives.

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