Titles may be held jointly by a number of persons or by one person in severalty.
We have been considering how an estate may be in fee or for life or for a term of years, etc., without respect to the person who may own it. We now see that any of these estates may be owned by one person or by several together. Where several own together there are technical distinctions to be made.
An estate in severalty is an estate owned by one person to the exclusion of all others.
Where the title is in one person he is said to own in severalty. Thus, if A owns a life estate or a term of years or a fee, he owns in severalty. This simply means he is a sole owner but does not exclude the idea that he may have created a lesser estate; for instance, owning in fee, he may lease for a term. Here he would be owner in severalty subject to a tenancy.
An estate is held in common when there is an undivided ownership by several persons who hold by several and distinct titles.
The ordinary case of plurality of ownership in modern days, is that of tenancy in common. A tenancy in common is a tenancy by several who hold distinct titles to the whole estate, their interests being undivided, as where A, B, C, and D, children of X, deceased, inherit his land. Here each owns the entire estate in common with the others. So if two parties purchase property jointly taking a title in the name of both, they are owners in common.
Where land is held in common, each of the tenants in common may have a partition when he so desires (provided of course there is no express restriction of that right in the particular case), that is to say, any tenant in common may demand a division of the estate according to his interest and if this is refused the court will make this division upon suit being filed to that end. Where the land is of such a nature that it cannot be partitioned without manifest injury to the property or the interest of the tenants it will be ordered sold and the proceeds divided.
Tenants in common need not hold in equal interest. Thus one tenant might have one-half interest and two others each a one-fourth interest. So one may hold by descent, another by deed, another by will, etc. A tenant in common may sell his interest or dispose of it in any way he sees fit and his successor has the same rights in the land that he had. Upon the death of a tenant in common his interest passes to his heirs or to his devisees. In this it differs from an interest by joint tenancy, which on the death of the tenant passes to his survivor.
A joint tenancy is a tenancy held by two or more by the same title in the same interest.
A joint tenancy was a common law estate where several persons came by grant or devise (deed or will) into an ownership of the same estate. Thus, if A granted to B
1OO and C for life or in fee, B and C were joint tenants. A joint tenant could not compel a division and when he died his interest passed to his survivor. Joint tenancies are now generally abolished, except where expressly created, and except in cases of trustees and the like, where survivorship of title is desirable. The language which would have once created a joint estate now creates an estate in common.
An estate in co-parcenary exists where several persons hold as one heir.
An estate in co-parcenary was an old common law estate existing where several took the same land by inheritance. Thus there being no eldest son, the daughters inherited in co-parcenary, and also by the custom of gavel kind in Kent, all the sons inherited together. To-day such parties hold in common.
Estates in entirety were estates held by husband and wife.
Where an estate was given to a husband and wife, the title was known as a title in entirety, as they held as one person. This estate has become unknown in our modern law and now husband and wife hold either as tenants in common or joint tenants. Of course, either the husband or wife may own property in severalty subject to the dower of the other one.