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Military Finances 101: Titling your Home

Estate Planning Managing Your Finances

When I was on Active Duty, I bought and sold a few houses (turned a few into rentals too). To be honest, I never put much thought into the titling options beyond Joint Tenants with Right of Survivorship (JTWROS). But, that is only one option and you may want to look at others. So what is available? And, why would you want to title your property this way?

Before we do look at the types of joint ownership, realize that in many cases the titling of the property will over-ride instructions in your will.

Ways to Title your Home


  • Joint Tenancy with Right of Survivorship (JTWROS). I've already mentioned this option. Assuming you own the property with one other person, you both have equal ownership and rights when it comes to the  property. If there are more than two owners, all will have an equal right to the property. When an owner (sometimes called a joint tenant) dies, the property transfers, outside of probate, to the surviving owner(s). In case you missed it, the transfer is outside of probate, so your will has no affect on the transfer of the property. Also, all owners must agree to sell the house or put a mortgage on it. Also, if one joint tenant is sued, the property can be lost in a lawsuit, but the owners who aren't being sued, must be compensated for their portion of the house.
  • Tenancy by the Entirety (TBE, sometimes).This option is special in several ways. First of all, it can only exist between husband and wife (law has not been changed to reflect same-sex marriages). It also isn't available in all states. Currently about 25 states offer Tenancy by the Entirety as an option. Like JTWROS, when one owner dies, the property passes to the surviving spouse outside of probate. Unlike JTWROS, a property is protected from creditors unless both the husband and wife are sued in the same suit. Both spouses must agree to any sale or mortgages.
  • Tenancy in Common. When property is owned in this matter, each "tenant in common" owns a specific portion of the property. Each owner can sell his or her portion, but a mortgage on it and/or withdraw from the tenancy. Unlike the first two examples, the tenant's portion of the property passes based on instructions in the will (or trust document if trust is owner). And, like TBE, other owners aren't liable for the actions of one tenant.
  • Life Estate. In this case, one person (normally) has the right to use and enjoyment of the property for his or her life. Upon the death of the life estate owner, the property transfers to another party(ies) known as remaindermen. The life estate holder can live in the property, rent it out or sell it (if approved by remaindermen and proceeds are divided based on life expectancy). This could work for Mom (or Dad) to live in the house with a life estate and the kids as remaindermen. It is cumbersome, and definitely is challenging when blended families are involved.

 There are a Couple Other Things to Consider

You should keep your eyes on a couple of other things.

  • Titling doesn't change automatically. If you get married, your spouse doesn't automatically become an owner. You need to take action. The reverse is true too, if a marriage terminates.
  • You can tag a "Transfer on Death" designation on some of these. That would mean when the second last death occurs, the property transfers to a designated person(s). This would not apply to Tenancy in Common or a Life Estate.
  • Many of the same titling options are available for other assets like bank accounts and brokerage accounts.

Military Finances are Different

I think on average, Senior Military Officers and NCOs probably buy and sell real estate more often than the average American. That is not the only way your finances are different than your civilian counterparts. That's why we think you should work with a Financial Advisor/Planner that works with active and retired military members each and every day. If you agree, give us a call or schedule a free initial consultation.


If you found this article useful, you might like the following blog posts:

Military Tax Break: Sale of Primary Residence


4 Common Mistakes Made by First Time Homebuyers


Selling Your Home to Fund Your Ultimate Retirement: Considerations for Retired Military Officers



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