Checking and changing the title deeds
If you own your home jointly with another person and that person dies, you need to check the title deeds to the property to find out whether or not you will automatically inherit their share or have to change the title deed. This page explains what title deeds are, how you can get hold of them and what the language used in the deeds means.
What are title deeds and where can I find them?
Title deeds are the legal documents which show who officially owns a property. If you, or the person who died, took out a mortgage to buy the house, the bank or building society will have the title deeds.
If there is no mortgage, a solicitor might have the title deeds in a safe place such as their office, or they may be kept somewhere safe in your house, for example, in a safe. You should look in all these places.
If you can't find your title deeds, don't panic. It is possible to get copies and your solicitor will be able to arrange this for you. There is a charge for getting copies of your deeds and your solicitor will be able to tell you how much it will cost.
Read the page on title deeds to find out more.
Why do the words used in the title deeds matter?
If you partly own the house and the person who died also owned a share, the wording in the title deeds is really important because it tells you whether or not you have automatically inherited the rest of the house from the person who died.
When you bought the house with the person who died, you probably had a conveyancing solicitor working for you.
the other owner will automatically inherit their share of the house (a 'survivorship destination'), or
the other owner will not automatically inherit the share of the house (a 'general destination').
People with quite a lot of savings or other assets sometimes pick the second option so they don't have to pay extra tax when they die. If you want further information on this, a solicitor or financial adviser will be able to help you.
I can't remember what happened when we bought the house! What should I do?
If can't remember what happened when you bought the house, you can take your title deeds to a solicitor and they can explain them.
If your solicitor tells you that you have a 'survivorship destination' in your deeds, you will automatically inherit the other share of the property when the co-owner dies.
On the other hand, if your solicitor tells you that there is no survivorship clause or that there is a 'general destination' in the deeds, you will have to dig a bit deeper to find out whether you will get the other share of the house. The answer will either be in the other person's will (if they left one) or will be decided by some legal rules that apply when a person dies without leaving a will. This is called intestacy. Find out more about what a will can tell you in our section on wills.
Last updated: 25 July 2021