LAWLINK: Inheritance woes

Q: My father died fifteen years ago and all his assets went to my mother who later met another man and they purchased a significant property solely out of my mother’s resources. My mother died less than a year later and the property automatically went to her partner. This created a rift in the family as some of us felt that our mother’s inheritance should come to us as the money she used to purchase the property came from her years of work and from my father’s estate. We have been told that there is very little that can be done as the property was in joint names and so does not come into play in the distribution of her estate. What can we do?

A: This is not an uncommon occurrence and can cause upset and rifts between family members.

There are various forms of property ownership. In your mother’s case, she purchased the property with her partner as a “Joint Tenant”. When property is purchased jointly and one joint tenant dies, their interest in the property ceases and the surviving joint tenant holds the property absolutely.

Therefore, joint property passes by survivorship outside any will to the surviving joint tenant – in your case your mother’s partner.

While it is understandable that you and the other members of your family are aggrieved with the situation, the advice you received is correct and there is very little you can do.

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Even if your mother made a will leaving you her entire estate, this would not include the house as your mother’s partner is the surviving joint tenant and the house is not taken into consideration in your mother’s estate.

Another method of holding property is what is termed “Tenants in Common”. In these circumstances, when one party dies, their interest passes to their next of kin or whoever they nominate in their will.

In your scenario, if your mother had purchased the property and held it as Tenants in Common on her demise, and had she left her entire estate to you, you would be entitled to 50 per cent of that property, with the other 50 per cent going to her partner.

In the event that parties buy a property jointly and later decide that they wish to be held as Tenants in Common, a simple application can be made to the Property Registration Authority to have the form of property ownership changed.