Doctrine of Survivorship Joint Tenants

Owners of joint property cannot give the property away in a Will because of the doctrine of survivorship

Doctrine of survivorship joint tenants

The right of survivorship applies to joint-tenancy and determines what happens to joint property after one of its owners dies.

When property (e.g. bank account of immovable property like condos, land or HDB Flat) is held as joint tenancy, it is a contract between two or more parties specifying their simultaneous ownership of the property i.e. all the co-owners hold the property as one unit together and there are no shares.

When property is held as joint tenancy, at the death of one of the joint tenants, ownership of the remaining property automatically passes to the surviving tenants.

This automatic process continues until only one surviving joint tenant is left and he becomes the sole owner of the property.

Because of this joint property cannot be included in a Will unless you do a mirror Will and specifically include a clause that when all the joint-tenants have died, the last one holding the (previously) joint property can give away in his Will.

If you want to give away joint-property in your Will, a solution is to sever (cut) the joint property.

For immovable properties (e.g. condos and HDB flats), all you need to do is to sign a document at a lawyers office to sever the joint tenancy into shares e.g. 40% for A and 60% for B. When property is held in shares, it is called tenants-in-common.

For joint bank accounts, you should close the account and open new bank accounts in each person's sole name.

Benjamin Li Yong Le

About the Author

Benjamin Li Yong Le (“Ben”) is an Advocate & Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Singapore. Ben is currently running his own boutique corporate and commercial law firm under the name and style of L’Avocat Law.