Alabama law allows two or more people to share title to real property as either tenants in common or as joint tenants. One aspect of joint tenancy in many states is the right of survivorship, which causes the shares of a deceased co-owner to be distributed amongst the surviving owners as a function of law, without the need for probate.
In Alabama, however, when "one joint tenant dies before the severance, his interest does not survive to the other joint tenants but descends and vests as if his interest had been severed and ascertained [as with tenancy in common]; provided, that in the event it is stated in the instrument creating such tenancy that such tenancy is with right of survivorship or other words used therein showing such intention, then, upon the death of one joint tenant, his interest shall pass to the surviving joint tenant or tenants according to the intent of such instrument." (ALA CODE 35-4-7). To restate this more simply, Alabama joint tenancy functions like a tenancy in common (separate shares of the whole) unless the intent for survivorship is clearly stated in the text of the deed.
Assuming the intent for survivorship is established and a co-owner dies, how does a surviving joint tenant make the redistribution official? At minimum, the living co-owner should record a copy of the deceased owner's death certificate. For more clarity, though, include the death certificate with an affidavit that contains the relevant details about the property transaction where the joint tenants gained title to the real estate in question.
Section 35-4-69 of the Alabama Code explains that affidavits "heretofore recorded or that may hereafter be recorded showing the relationship of parties or other persons to conveyances of lands, the relationship of any parties to any conveyances with other parties whose names are shown in the chain of title to lands ... and affidavits stating any other fact or circumstance affecting title to land or any right, title, interest in or lien or encumbrance upon land, when so recorded, the record of said affidavits shall be notice of the facts therein recited; and any such affidavit may be made by any person whether connected with the chain of title or not. This section shall apply to affidavits heretofore or hereafter made whether the same were made in connection with any particular transaction or merely to perfect title to land." Because an affidavit made under oath, it is admissible as evidence. Recording it along with the death certificate provides formal notice of the redistribution of the deceased owner's portion of the property rights.
It is essential for owners of real property to maintain a clear chain of title (ownership history), and recording an affidavit to verify changes such as the death of a co-owner is an effective way to accomplish this. A clear chain of title is important because it will help to simplify future sales of the real estate. Filing the affidavit clears the title, but the only way to remove the deceased joint tenant's name from the deed is for the survivors to execute and record a new deed. This instrument should show all joint tenants as grantors, with the decedent appropriately identified, and only the survivors as grantees. A certified copy of the recorded affidavit should accompany the new deed; other required supporting documents may vary from county to county.
Deeds.com Alabama Affidavit of Surviving Joint Tenant Forms Have Been Updated as Recently as Thursday January 17, 2019
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