It is not uncommon for friends who consider themselves “very close” or blood brothers and sisters or husbands and wives to buy or hold property jointly. Indeed, on a number of occasions, spouses or even about to be wedded, shop around for real estate. As soon as they find one and the agreed price is paid, their solicitor is instructed, to prepare the Deed or other title documents in the joint names of “Mr. and Mrs. XY.”
However in doing so, perhaps a number of things are taken for granted or assumed and this mis-understanding of the effect of the instruction to the solicitor, comes to light only after “the two good and inseparable friends” are turned asunder, by things of the flesh, mostly money or other matters of the heart (please this piece is not about marriage counseling or the property rights of those married under the Act and it should be understood in that context).
There is no gain saying the fact that whatever relationship that matures into owning property jointly, is worth preserving, but like every business decision, everyone should endeavour to take well informed decisions, knowing fully well the implications of such decisions. By this, there should be no room for regret whatever happens thereafter.
Generally, a property held jointly is such that each person ” holds nothing by himself and yet holds the whole together with his fellow”. A joint owner therefore does not hold any separate title distinct to himself, which explains why where, for instance, a property is held jointly by two people, the property becomes the sole property of the surviving joint owner, on the death of the other. It is the surviving joint owner, that becomes the owner of the jointly held property, as the property simply vests in him, as survivor. Because a joint owner does not own a share, but the whole, there is no question of passing over ” his share” to somebody else. This can only arise, by partition or severance of the jointly owned property in the lifetime of the joint owners. And of course once this happens, such property seizes to be joint. Where the property is for instance jointly owned by Six people, on the death of any of them, the survivors retain ownership among themselves until the last man, who at that stage becomes sole owner!
There was a very pathetic case of two friends who held a prime property jointly. Unfortunately one died rather prematurely and his children have never stopped demanding for the share of their father in the join property, forgetting the right of survivorship of the surviving joint owner. The Property and Conveyancing Law of old Western and Mid-Western Nigeria tried to moderate some of the difficulties associated with what is commonly called “Joint Tenancy” but that does not preclude being cautious and deliberate in taking a decision to own property Jointly. Indeed, anyone Who knows the implications of buying property Jointly with another, should not fight shy of taking the necessary steps as occasion may demand in his life time and in the life of the joint holding, otherwise it may be too late. There may be times when it may be wiser to hold “in – common” instead of ” Jointly“.
Like in every endeavour of man, buying property jointly is not a decision to be taken without presence of mind and the ability to administer such ownership. This of course implies the boldness to call for a partition or do a severance, when occasion so demands. That way both the surviving joint owner and the estate of the deceased joint owner will be saved a lot of troubles and bad blood. If such important decision is not made, and the surviving Joint owner who indeed has a legal right to inherit, is not compassionate or suddenly becomes unfriendly to those the deceased joint owner has left behind, even equity may not go far, as equity follows the law. It is a mute point perhaps, whether it will make a difference that one or all of the other joint owners died unnaturally or supernaturally, leaving behind the “strongest” of all.
Please when giving that instruction, make sure reason has not gone to bed and do not forget to pray (if you know how), as the journey of your joint holding progresses. The Right of Survivorship is real.
The masculine in this article or any other piece includes the feminine.
Extract taken from
HINTS ON LAND DOCUMENTATION AND LITIGATION IN NIGERIA
(Published by LAWBREED LIMITED)
First published in July, 1999
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