Q My dad put my brother’s name on his co-op stock last year. But in the place where he lives you can only have two names on the stock certificate. I was wondering if something happens to my dad, can he leave his half of the stock to my sister and myself in his will. Or does this mean that my brother will get the entire shares of stock?
A According to Robert Buckalew, an attorney with the Glen Rock-based law firm of Buckalew Frizzell & Crevina LLP, “Your dad should be able to direct the ownership of his interest in the co-op to you and your sister under his will. The reason, at least in New Jersey, is that where only the names of two or more owners appear on a stock certificate and proprietary lease. Even on a deed, they are presumed to be tenants in common; they are presumed each to own an undivided, equal interest in the stock and lease. Before assuming all is well, however, you should examine carefully both the stock certificate and proprietary lease. If the words ‘joint tenants’ or ‘joint tenants with rights of survivorship’ (sometimes abbreviated as ‘JT,’ ‘JTWS,’ ‘JT/RS,’ or the like), then on his death your father’s interest in the stock and lease will pass to your brother, regardless of any contrary direction in your father’s will.
“A few words of caution: even if there are no words or abbreviations on the stock certificate or lease indicating that ownership is something other than a tenancy in common, you should urge your father to go on record, in writing, with the co-op board, [confirming] that he and your brother are equal tenants in common. He should ask the board to acknowledge in writing that the stock and lease are so registered. Also, you should suggest to your father that he have his will, stock certificate, and proprietary lease reviewed by his own attorney, so that he can be certain that his intentions for the ownership of his interest in the co-op after his death will be followed. If he does not direct in his will that his interest pass to you and your sister, chances are it will pass to your brother, you, and your sister, as part of his residuary estate. That, incidentally, is what would happen if he were to die without a will.
“It would be a good idea for your father to explain in his will why he and your brother share ownership of the stock and lease and why he chooses to leave his half (if, for example, he owns two-thirds and your brother one-third) to you and your sister.
“The final word of caution: make sure your father sees his own lawyer and that he sees him alone. If he uses your lawyer, or your sister’s or brother’s, or one any of you choose a lawyer for him, a presumption arises that his will was the product of undue influence. That is how and when litigation begins, inheritances are squandered and siblings go to war against one another. Right now, as you have described your father’s stock certificate, you should expect that there will be a difference of opinion or two as to who owns what part, if any, of your father’s co-op when he dies.” n