Geoffrey Boycott –
Whilst decided on several grounds, the case highlights the importance of fully understanding the implications of owning property jointly with another, particularly in the event of the death of one party or the breakdown of the relationship.
In Mr Boycott's case, he had told the High Court how he bought a home in Sandbanks, as 'joint tenants' with his former partner Anne Wyatt 1996. Being joint tenants meant that when one of them died, the survivor would automatically acquire the deceased's share.
However, in 2007 he discovered to his 'huge surprise' that Mrs Wyatt had changed the joint ownership of the property to a 'tenancy in common', meaning that her half of the value of the property could then be left under her Will to someone other than Mr Boycott. He had not appreciated that ownership could be altered in this way.
However, by law, a person may change the type of their joint ownership from joint tenants to tenants in common if they 'serve' upon the other a written notice of their desire in accordance with section 36(2) of the Law of Property Act 1925. Section 196 of that Act prescribes the method of 'service', which permits it to be sent to the other co-owner at their last known home or business address. It need not be acknowledged as having been received.
This case therefore highlights that when joint owners consider how best to hold property – whether as joint tenants or tenants in common. Whilst the former is often the preferred choice for married couples, there is no hard and fast rule, and all co-owners – married or not – should focus both on the worst case scenario, that of the breakdown of their relationship, but also agree up front what 'shares' each co-owner really should have in the property should ownership ever be an issue.