Tenants by Entireties Ownership of Automobiles Not Possible

It may be impossible to own a automobile as tenants by entireties in the State of Florida based on a decision entered December 3, 2004, by the Fifth District Court of Appeal in the case of Vongsack Xayavong and Damomonh Xayavong v. Sunny Gifts, Inc. In this case, the creditor, Sunny Gifts, seized an automobile titled in the Xayavongs’ names as husband or wife. The appellate court in this case held that the presumption established by the Florida Supreme Court in favor of tenants by entireties ownership of all jointly owned marital property does not apply to cars. The reason for the court’s holding was that a Florida statute, F.S. 319.22, states that when co-owners title a vehicle using the conjunction “or” the vehicle shall be held in joint tenancy (not tenants by entireties). The court said that the statute eliminates uncertainty about the form of ownership, and therefore, the presumptions in Beal Bank are not needed to resolve ambiguity of the owners’ intent.

Interesting, the same statute says that when a married couple owns a car as husband and wife, then upon the death of the first spouse to die ownership does not automatically pass to the survivor. Automatic transfers upon death to a co-owner are known legally as “survivorship” of title. In Beal Bank the Supreme Court said clearly that survivorship of title is a necessary element of tenancy by the entireties. Therefore, a car owned by husband and wife also cannot be owned as tenants by entireties because by statute the essential element of survivorship is absent.

So, after the Xayavong decisions of the Fifth DCA and the Supreme Court’s Beal Bank decision neither ownership of a car by husband or wife or ownership as husband and wife produces a tenancy by entireties car title. Those choices, and & or , are the only two options presented on Florida’s car registration form. These decisions logically make it impossible for a married couple to own a car as tenants by entireties.

About the Author

Jon Alper is an expert in asset protection planning for individuals and small businesses.

Jon Alper

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