Many couples choose to hold title to their valuable property as "tenants by the entirety." Tenancy by the entirety is very much like joint tenancy, but it's just for married couples (and in a few states, domestic partners who have registered with the state). When it comes to avoiding probate, tenancy by the entirety has almost the same advantages and disadvantages of joint tenancy.
Ownership as tenants by the entirety is available only in some states. If you live in one of these states, tenancy by the entirety (also called "tenancy by the entireties") may be available to you:
District of Columbia
* For real estate only
** For homestead property only
‡ Only if created before April 4, 1985
In some states, if married spouses take title to property together, they are presumed to own it as tenants by the entirety.
Below are some advantages and disadvantages of owning property with your spouse or domestic partner as tenants by the entirety.
There are a few important differences between joint tenancy and tenancy by the entirety. For one, if property is held in tenancy by the entirety, neither spouse can ever transfer his or her half of the property alone, either while alive or by will or trust. In the eyes of the law, the couple owns the property as one entity. This is different from joint tenancy; each joint tenant is seen as owning a separate share of the property, and is free to break the joint tenancy at any time.
EXAMPLE: Fred and Ethel hold title to their house in tenancy by the entirety. If Fred wanted to sell or give away his half-interest in the house, he could not do so without Ethel's signature on the deed.
Other differences may also be important to you. In general, tenancy by the entirety property is better protected than joint tenancy property from the creditors of just one spouse. If someone sues one spouse and wins a court judgment, in most states the creditor can't seize and sell tenancy by the entirety property to pay off the debt. And if one spouse files for bankruptcy, creditors generally can't reach or sever property held in tenancy by the entirety.
A tenancy by the entirety ends while both parties are alive if:
In these events, the parties then co-own the property as tenants in common.
A tenancy by the entirety also terminates when one spouse dies; the other spouse then owns the property alone.