Estate attorneys in New York are familiar with the many statutes and rules regarding the ownership of property. One of the fundamental aspects involved in estate planning is knowing and understanding the manner in which a testator owns his assets. As examined in many previous posts in the New York Probate Lawyer Blog, a Last Will typically only controls the disposition of assets that a decedent owns in his name alone. Property interests that are held in joint tenancy or with a designated beneficiary such as a life insurance policy pass directly to the surviving joint owner or beneficiary upon a person’s death and do not become part of the estate subject to disposition by the terms of the Last Will.
In particular, in the case of real estate that is owned by a husband and wife, New York law creates a special aspect of ownership called a tenancy by the entirety. This type of ownership essentially provides that when one of the spouses dies, the surviving spouse automatically becomes the sole and absolute owner of the property provided the parties remain married at the time of death. In view of these property rights, lifetime dispositions of one spouse’s interest in the property cannot interfere with or prevent the survivor’s right to become the sole owner upon the other parties death. Continue reading →