What is the effect of changing our ownership to tenants in common?

Q My husband has changed our tenancy on our property to tenants in common. I understand that means I only own half the property and if he died I would still have to sell my house to pay the people he has left it to in his will. I would just like to know if that also applies to me, so if I died he would only get half the property? 

A Had your husband not “severed your joint tenancy” – to use the technical term for what he has done in changing the ownership of your property from a joint tenancy to tenants in common – when he died, you would have automatically become the sole owner of the whole house. And if you had died before him, your husband would have become the sole owner. That’s because joint tenants own a property jointly and it cannot be inherited by anyone other than the other joint owner.

Tenants in common, on the other hand, each own a distinct share in the property which is usually split 50/50 unless officially stated otherwise. The owner of that distinct share can leave it in their will to whomsoever they like. So if your husband has had a new will drawn up in which he has left his share to someone other than you, yes, potentially the house will have to be sold in order to give the cash value of that share to the beneficiaries named in his will. If you had a new will drawn up, you too could leave your half of the house to someone other than your husband which would mean that he would own only half the property after your death.

Either or both of you could also have a will drawn up which leaves your share of the property to someone else but gives the other spouse the right to live in the property until his or her death – called “giving a life interest”. This may be what your husband has done so it might be worth checking.

I would also be interested in knowing why your husband has severed the joint tenancy. I wonder if he has followed some out-of-date advice for avoiding inheritance tax which is now unnecessary because the second spouse to die can effectively inherit an unused inheritance tax nil-rate band (currently £325,000). This was not the case previously when, if both spouses left everything to each other, it was possible to make use of only one nil-rate band. More information on transferring a nil-rate band is available on the HM Revenue & Customs website.

Read the fill article at https://www.theguardian.com/money/2014/jul/30/changing-property-ownership-to-tenants-in-common