Frequently, an estate or inheritance involves multiple heirs. If a last will and testament exists, even it may not define specific property by individual share. A personal representative, or the person appointed by the court to manage an estate, may deed property to multiple heirs as defined in a will or by Ohio state law. Alternatively, a property owner may deed property prior to his death to multiple individuals in an attempt to bypass probate. Whether deeded before or after death, Ohio law determines how title is held by multiple parties, either by language in a deed or by statute.
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Tenants in Common
Tenancy is common is a form of holding title in Ohio where each owner has a fractional undivided interest or share in property. The shares may be equal or unequal as specified by deed or determined by will. As opposed to survivorship, which is established by language in a deed or will providing for remaining co-owners to acquire the interest of a deceased owner, tenancy in common provides for a decedent to pass his share to his heirs or beneficiaries. Ownership interests may also be subject to the dower rights of a decedent’s spouse or the spouses of co-owners such that a spouse may be required to sign a deed conveying the property. Dower was established in a time when few women owned property, to prevent a widow from remaining homeless upon the death of her husband. It has since been expanded to include either spouse.
A personal representative’s distribution deed generally distributes property to the named beneficiaries under a will. For example, the deed may allow heirs to acquire equal shares of property or grant one son a 75 percent share while another only receives 25 percent. Unless survivorship provisions are specifically stated in the will and resulting personal representative's deed, the property will be held as tenants in common with each heir holding a fractional undivided interest in the whole. If property was previously owned by multiple parties as tenants in common, and one of those owners dies testate, his share generally passes according to the terms of his will. His beneficiaries will then own his fractional share in common with the surviving co-owners.
Ohio’s laws of descent and distribution determine how property passes to heirs upon death when no will exists. If multiple parties own property as tenants in common without survivorship provisions and one of them dies intestate, her heirs inherit her interest in the manner prescribed by those laws. A surviving spouse will acquire the interest of the deceased if she is the only heir or if all children of the deceased are also children of the surviving spouse. If there is no surviving spouse, the children of the deceased inherit the decedent’s share equally. Descent and distribution laws further establish who inherits when there is no surviving spouse or children, when children exist from a previous marriage or when one of the children predeceases the parent.
Partitioning the Property
When property is owned by multiple co-tenants who cannot agree to the dispensation of the property among them, they may petition Ohio’s Court of Common Pleas in the county where the property is located for division of the property. If practical, the property may be surveyed and divided according to each party’s determined interest. If it is not possible or practical to divide the property or division would result in a loss of value, one or more co-owners may elect to purchase the remaining shares through the court at appraised value. If no co-owner elects to purchase, the court may order the property sold at public auction and the proceeds divided according to the respective interests of the parties.