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Murray Beith Murray LLP is a leading Scottish private client law firm.

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Survivorship destinations - testamentary intent in the title to your house

Peter ShandIt is always surprising when a few words in the title to a property can create unintended consequences. Throughout the 1980s and 90s, it was not uncommon for a joint title to property to contain a survivorship destination. Most couples felt it was right to agree that the whole title to the property should transfer to the survivor when one of them died. By including these few words, they had inadvertently included testamentary intent in the title to their house.

What is a survivorship destination?

When two or more people buy a property, the way in which they hold the title must be described. For the purposes of this article, we shall assume the title is held by a couple.

There are generally two options when describing the nature of ownership, if we were to assume equal ownership. The first option is to say the title is held “equally between them and to their respective executors and assignees”. This means that when one of them dies, their share in the property will pass to whoever they direct it to in their Will. Where there is no Will, the title will pass to whoever is entitled to it under the law of succession. In the case of a couple, to the surviving spouse under Prior Rights.

The second option is to say the title is held “equally between them and to the survivor of them and to the executors and assignees of the survivor”. As you can see from this option, when one of the owners dies, the title to the property automatically transfers to the survivor. This option is called a survivorship destination.

Survivorship destinations override provisions in a Will and impact on death

When a title includes a survivorship destination, it will take precedence over any Will prepared by the owners of the property. A survivorship destination takes immediate effect on the death of one of the owners. The entire title then vests in the survivor.

Should you prepare a Will that otherwise deals with your interest in the property, it will be overridden by the survivorship destination.

Evacuation to manage your interest

It is possible to change the way the title is held through a deed evacuating the survivorship destination. Such a deed will remove the survivorship provision and reinstate your ability to decide who should inherit your share in the property after your death.

You may still wish to leave your interest in the property to your spouse or joint owner and it is simple to do that through your Will. However, there may be better options than simply transferring your interest to your surviving partner. You might, for example, instruct that your partner should enjoy a liferent in your share of the property. Ownership can be transferred to your children or others after your surviving partner’s death. You may decide to do this for estate planning purposes. Alternatively, a liferent trust will reduce the extent of your surviving partner’s assets should they need residential or nursing care.

By restructuring your title to remove any existing survivorship destination, you give yourself options you would not otherwise have.

Specialist Property and Estate Planning Lawyers, Edinburgh

Partner, Peter Shand heads our Asset Protection Group and specialises in estate planning and tax.  If this article has raised any questions or you would like to discuss your affairs, then please complete our contact form or call us on 0131 225 1200.

Murray Beith Murray LLP was established in 1849, as advisors for generations of clients, committed to our values of integrity, expertise and trust. This aim and these values continue to this day as does our commitment to be here when you need us.

 

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