Real Property – Elimination of the Straw Man in the Creation of Joint Estates in Michigan

That joint ownership is a popular form of holding title to real property is undeniable. A husband and wife are especially likely to consider this form of ownership as “natural” and desirable because it emphasizes the concept of marriage as a partnership and gives both partners control over and ownership in the family property. In addition to these factors, joint ownership is popular because of the right of survivorship which is incident to it. In this feature the layman sees, or thinks he sees, the opportunity to avoid a probate proceeding, the estate tax, and the lawyer’s fee. It is not the purpose here to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of joint ownership but it is hardly rash to observe that the property owner cannot, by the simple strategem of taking title in his own name and that of his proposed beneficiary, evade either the tax collector or the lawyer and his fee. The entire value of property held in joint tenancy or by the entireties must be included in the estate of the decedent for federal estate tax purposes, and unless the entire estate, both real and personal property, is jointly held, or is very small, or is uncontested, probate is inevitable. Even if these hurdles are cleared, the death of the co-owner must still be proved and entered upon the records to clear the title, thus bringing the lawyer into the scene again. But given all these factors, joint ownership of property can still be a very valuable device and one which every lawyer will want to utilize at some time. It is in the interest of lawyer and layman alike that the process culminating in joint ownership be as simple as possible.