Legal Updates

Legal Updates

Right of survivorship in a joint tenancy is not cast in stone!

Right of survivorship in a joint tenancy is not cast in stone
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One of the main benefits of holding a property under joint tenancy is the operation of the rule of survivorship. This means that the surviving owner will take ownership of the property without the hassle of going through the probate process. This manner of holding is usually recommended to spouses purchasing their matrimonial property. Parents also purchase properties under joint tenancy with their children intending to pass ownership under the said rule.

However, the right of survivorship in a joint tenancy is not cast in stone!

In a CNA[1] article published on 6 Dec 2023, 3 sisters sued their brother over a shophouse purchased by their father under joint tenancy with the brother in 1995. The father used the shophouse to run the family business until he passed on in 2016. During this whole period, the father never accounted any notional rent to the son. Thereafter, the mother continued running the family business in the shophouse as its sole proprietor until 2018.

In 2018, HDB informed the brother that as the surviving joint tenant, he should seek legal help on the registration of title in his name. The brother decided to sell the shophouse but the sisters asked for the property to be shared amongst all siblings equally.

This case is notable in that the Court explained how the rule of survivorship comes into play, and how, it may in certain circumstances be defeated.

The court found that as the father had paid entirely for the shophouse, there arose a presumption of trust (on the part of the son) in favour of the siblings. The son was unable to rely on the presumption of advancement[2] (that the father had paid for the property intending to benefit him) because of several reasons; chiefly that the father never accounted any rent to him, and by the son’s own admission, that the father had retained all beneficial interests in the property during his lifetime.

The Court found further that the father had intended the shophouse to provide for his wife in the event of his death.

Consequently, the Court held that the 4 siblings would share the beneficial interest in the shophouse equally and made orders allowing the 3 sisters to buy their brother’s 25% share.

Family lawsuits are always regrettable, and this case is of no exception. Property owners are advised to seek legal advice to ensure that their intentions are carried out after their passing. Please feel free to contact us should you have any enquiries on estate planning or conveyancing.

Ascentsia Law Corporation

Kenny Khoo (Director)
Eugene P’ng (Associate)

N.B. For presentation purposes, we have simplified and highlighted certain legal issues which are relevant to our subject matter. Please refer to the full grounds of decision for a more comprehensive coverage.


[2]The presumption of advancement arises in certain familial relationships, such as husband-wife and parent-child relationships, whereby there is an intent for a party (e.g., husband) who has paid the entire or majority of the purchase price to benefit the other (e.g., the wife) after the former’s death.