As a result of Jerry’s will and Texas law, his widow, Tracy, owns one-half community property interest in the couple’s lake house and their four children own the other half as tenants-in-common.
Co-tenants share the nonexclusive right to possess, sell, and encumber the property. This means that, one tenant cannot keep any other from simultaneously using the property. In addition, one tenant cannot, without agreement of all tenants, commit to a contract of sale, a mortgage, lease or any other binding agreement regarding the property.
Each co-tenant has the individual and collective duty to protect and preserve the property. This means that each co-tenant has the responsibility individually and collectively, to pay taxes on the property, maintain the property through needed upkeep and repairs.
Tracy and the children can agree to each contribute their portions. Tracy would pay half the taxes and required repair and maintenance expenses, reflective of her ownership of half the property. The children would split the other half of these costs equally, each paying one-eighth of the total.
If one co-tenant pays the entire tax bill or upkeep cost, that co-tenant will be entitled to reimbursement from the others. This right can be enforced in court, if necessary.
However, one tenant cannot, without agreement of the others, make optional improvements on the property and require fellow tenants to pay a part. In fact, a tenant who objects to these “improvements” could require their removal at the expense of the tenant who had the done.
Suppose Tracy pays all the taxes on the property for years and the others refuse to reimburse her. Could she, instead of suing for the reimbursement, obtain ownership of all the property by not paying the taxes and purchasing the property when the property is foreclosed upon? The answer is “no.” The law presumes that the buyer is purchasing on behalf of all the co-tenants, meaning each retains the ownership they had before the sale.
Sandra W. Reed is an attorney with Katten & Benson, an Elder Law firm handling probate of estates, wills, trusts and Medicaid planning in Fort Worth. She lives in beautiful Somervell County, near Chalk Mountain.