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How Joint Home Ownership Leads to Messy Estate Fights

There always has been the rule that if real estate is owned as “joint tenants”, then the survivor of the joint owners will automatically become the sole owner. This right to survivorship will bypass any provisions in the testament.

This principle was put to the test in a recent court decision.

In 2004 Leslie Salga and his second wife Karen Marley purchased a home as joint tenants.

In his will, Leslie Salga stated that Karen had the right to continue to occupy his one-half interest in the house

After his death, his daughters went to court demanding their father’s half interest in the house. Salga’s widow brought her own court application, claiming ownership of the entire property by right of survivorship.

The daughters taped (without their dad’s consent) a cellphone recording of a conversation between the couple at the hospital just prior to his death. In the taped conversation, Karen agreed that the daughters should get the 50% share of the property.

The judge ruled that half the house was owned by Karen and the other half was owned by Salga’s estate, and would be inherited by his daughters. The judge also decided that Karen would be entitled to live in the house for the rest of her life, provided she pays all expenses for maintaining and repairing it.

It was a bitter sweet victory for the daughters. They wanted immediate liquidation of the home to get their share, but now they have to wait until their step mother leaves the house.

The lesson is that you have to pay attention to the title of the matrimonial home when you do your will. Being registered as joint owners does not necessarily mean that the survivor will inherit the whole property.

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