Definition of tenancy by the entirety
A tenancy by the entirety (sometimes called a tenancy by the entireties) is a type of concurrent estate formerly available only to married couples, where ownership of property is treated as though the couple were a single legal person. (In the State of Hawaii, the option of Tenants by the Entirety ownership is also available to domestic partners in a registered "Reciprocal Beneficiary Relationship"; Vermont's Civil Union statute qualifies parties to a civil union for tenancy by the entirety). Like a JTWROS, the tenancy by the entirety also encompasses a right of survivorship, so if one spouse dies, the entire interest in the property passes to the surviving spouse, without going through probate.
In some jurisdictions, to create a tenancy by the entirety the parties must specify in the deed that the property is being conveyed to the couple "as tenants by the entirety," while in others, a conveyance to a married couple is presumed to create a tenancy by the entirety unless the deed specifies otherwise. Also, besides sharing the four unities necessary to create a joint tenancy with right of survivorship - time, title, interest, and possession - there must also be the fifth unity of marriage. However, unlike a JTWROS, neither party in a tenancy by the entirety has a unilateral right to sever the tenancy. The termination of the tenancy or any dealing with any part of the property requires the consent of both spouses. A divorce breaks the unity of marriage, leaving the default tenancy, which may be a tenancy in common in equal shares. Many US jurisdictions no longer recognize tenancies by the entirety. Where it is recognized, benefits can include the ability to shield the property from creditors of only one spouse, as well as the ability to partially shield the property where only one spouse is filing a petition for bankruptcy relief. If a non-debtor spouse in a tenancy by the entirety survives a debtor spouse, the lien can never be enforced against the property. On the other hand, if a debtor spouse survives a non-debtor spouse, the lien may be enforced against the whole property, not merely the debtor spouse's original half-interest.
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