Joint ownership in Singapore and unequal contributions to purchase price

Published on April 27, 2012

Whether one lives in a HDB flat or landed property, it is common for joint home owners, most usually husband and wife, to hold property jointly in both of their names. But what happens if one party contributes way more to the purchase price than the other? Would it be fair to adhere strictly to the rules of co-ownership under such circumstances?

In a joint tenancy, co-owners are individually “wholly entitled to the whole” of the property.  Strange as it sounds, it means that, for instance, the husband owns 100% and the wife also owns 100%. It also means that, both co-owners possess a right of survivorship. Upon the death of one party, the surviving co-owner inherits the whole of the property.

Things get complicated if co-owners provide unequal contribution to the purchase price of the property. In the event of a dispute over ownership share, can the party who contributed more, claim more?

In Singapore, the highest court of the land has implemented  the following two stage test.

Firstly, the court has to determine if the presumption of resulting trust arose. This means that the party who contributed more would have to adduce evidence, such as transaction records, or CPF payments, that he or she, indeed paid more. If so, a resulting trust would be presumed, whereby the parties would be presumed to hold the property in the ratio corresponding to their contribution.

However, even after the court has ascertained the existence of such a presumption, it can still be rebutted, either by contrary evidence, or the presumption of advancement.

Contrary evidence could include recorded agreements by the co-owners, to hold the property jointly in equal shares, despite unequal contributions. The presumption of advancement (or the presumption of gift) arises when the parties are involved in a familial relationship, and if such relations exist, the law presumes that the parties intended any excess contributions to be a “gift”, and that parties intended to hold the property jointly and equally. Such relationships may include husband and wife, or even parent and child. Much would depend on the strength and nature of the relationship.

As can be seen from the above, just because there are two names on the registry, does not mean that joint ownership will be interpreted inflexibly. Other factors will be taken into consideration. But do note that the law is liable to change, and the above does not constitute legal advice, and may not even be relevant to your specific circumstance. To make absolutely sure, we suggest that you gather legal advice from a qualified lawyer.