Jointly owned property – BEWARE

submitted by Richard P. Wilson, Esquire

Since less than half of the people in this county have a will, it is obvious that property is being transferred by some other method.

Life insurance policies and IRA accounts generally have a beneficiary provision.

In fact, the beneficiary named in an IRA account or life insurance policy receives the proceeds despite a provision in the will which is contrary.

It is obvious that most property is owned jointly both real and personal property.

Below are some examples of unintended consequences with relying on jointly owned property as a method to pass property upon your death.

  • A parent may disinherit other children by placing bank accounts in joint ownership with a caregiver child;
  • Jointly owned property with a child could cause problems when the child faces a lawsuit;
  • Jointly owned property with a child can cause the parent to pay inheritance tax on their own property, if the parent survives the child;
  • Jointly owned property with a child can cause problems if the child is married with the possibility of a divorce in the future;
  • Jointly owned property can overcome a will provision, if the will gives the property  to someone else;
  • A widow or widower can disinherit their children by placing property in joint names with the new spouse;
  • A husband and wife should never own a vehicle or a boat in joint names.  Both of them could be sued as a result of an accident, if the claim is against one spouse, the tenancy by entireties property is protected until the death of the spouse who was not at fault;
  • If your marriage seems to be failing, be concerned about jointly owned bank accounts and investments;
  • Having real estate in joint ownership without the right of survivorship other than your spouse can cause problems in the future without a written agreement spelling out what happens if there is a disagreement between the owners or at the death of one of the owners.

Estate planning is very important and using jointly owned property to pass ownership may cause other problems.

Also, a General Durable Power of Attorney is always needed to protect the joint owner if the other owner becomes incapacitated including a husband and wife.

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