Many people trying to plan their own estates fail to realize that joint ownership is not always a viable estate planning solution. In fact, it’s one of the riskier choices an individual can make while planning his or her own last will. Further, research by Consumer Reports has shown that do-it-yourself last wills often result in unintended consequences.
The truth is that when you leave behind a last will containing final instructions, a probate court supervises the estate. In other words, the executor can only act under the probate court’s supervision.
With joint ownership, the person that is the co-owner of the property or the accounts becomes the sole owner after you die. There is no oversight, and there is no legally binding reason why this person has to give any portion of the money to anyone. Your wishes in this regard are not enforceable.
Even if the person that you choose to act as a co-owner would never defy your wishes, he or she could become the target of a lawsuit or fall into debt. The funds that you have accumulated would be fair game for creditors or litigants. They would be lost to the intended recipient.
So-called easy answers often yield disastrous consequences in the world of estate planning, particularly when it comes to joint ownership. The only surefire way to make sure your estate plan is in line with your personal wishes is to consult a qualified estate planning attorney.
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