Title to Property
When a person dies, you need to know how title to the property was held by the person to know who gets it at
death. Here are some general guidelines to help you:
- Joint tenancy is property that is held in the names of 2 or more people as joint tenants with a right of
survivorship. This means that when any joint tenant dies, the survivors automatically own the share of the person
who died. Examples of this kind of ownership can include deeds to houses, titles to vehicles, government bonds,
and bank accounts.
- Property payable on death to a named beneficiary goes to the beneficiary when the person dies. Examples of
this are life insurance policies and some retirement funds.
Many kinds of property have the type of ownership written right on the legal document. Deeds to houses, titles to
motor vehicles, bank accounts, retirement plans, and government bonds usually list the names of the owners and
how the property is owned -- for example, as joint tenancy, as payable on death to a certain beneficiary, etc.
If the property does not have a title or a paper stating how it is owned, you need to determine ownership. Typical
examples of this kind of property are household furnishings, jewelry, clothes, mementos, and other personal
property. Here are 2 ways this kind of property might be owned:
- Community Property is the name for property in Arizona that a husband and wife acquire during marriage.
Community property is generally owned by both spouses, unless they specifically agreed differently. When either
spouse dies, the surviving spouse owns the community property of both spouses.
- Separate property is the name for property acquired before marriage, or during the marriage as a gift or
inheritance. Any property bought during marriage with separate property, and kept as separate property, is not
community property. When a person dies, separate property will pass on to others according to how title to the
property is held, like joint tenancy or payable on death to a beneficiary, or according to any other legal
documents, like a will, or a trust, or according to the laws of inheritance.