Own Property Together Before Marriage? Change the Deed

How You Own Property Before Marriage and After Marriage Matters

ownership of real property

Make sure you own your real property in a way that provides the maximum amount of protection to you and your spouse.

Many people live together before they get married. They may choose to do so, or they may have had no other choice until recently (for example in cases of same-sex marriage.)

If you live with someone and own real estate together, how you own that real estate matters. In fact, the smartest thing you can do after marriage, is literally stop at your lawyer’s office in the limo on the way to celebrate your union, and change your deed so you have the right kind of protection. Otherwise, you will find serious consequences to your real estate property rights if something should happen.

Three Ways to Jointly Own Real Estate

There are three ways two people can own real estate together.

  1. Tenants in common
  2. Joint tenants with right of survivorship
  3. Tenants by the entireties

What each of these things means can vary by state. As a result, it is critical that you consult with a lawyer so you own your joint real estate properly both when you are living together but unmarried and later on when you are married. How you own your property is part of how you manage your entire estate.

How Each Form of Ownership Works

Tenants in common means that you own fifty percent of the property. Your fifty percent will go to your heirs upon your death. You can choose someone besides your partner to inherit your half of the property. Your portion of the real estate is subject to your creditors.

Joint tenants with right of survivorship means that the other person will inherit your half of the property when you die, but creditors can still attach your fifty percent for any debts you incur. Most people who are in unmarried relationships will have deeds with this kind of ownership.

Why does the debt issue matter? It matters because, when you die, if you have debt, your creditors can force your loved one to sell the house to pay off your debts. As a result, you could leave your partner in a very bad state, maybe even make her homeless.

Tenants by the entireties is the best kind of protection, but it is limited to married people. This kind of ownership means that you both own the property, together. No creditors can attach your property for a debt unless you both agree to it. Neither spouse can obtain credit alone on the property.


If you plan on owning real estate with your partner, make certain that you choose the correct ownership for you. As soon as you get married, in order to take advantage of the benefits of marriage, make certain you change your deed as soon as possible to provide the maximum kind of protection available. Contact the York PA law office of Hoffmeyer & Semmelman for assistance or questions today.


Reviewed by William F. Hoffmeyer.