It is not unusual for someone to say, “I have added my daughter as a joint owner of all my property, so I don’t need a will.” First, that is not possible because most items of personal property do not have a certificate of title or other paperwork to indicate ownership. Second, even if there were, there are still good reasons not to add someone as a joint owner.
Take real estate, for example. If you own real estate jointly with the right of survivorship (as many married or partnered persons do), then the surviving owner will become the sole owner when the other owner passes away. That’s simple enough, and there’s usually nothing wrong with this type of ownership. But life is complicated. What if both owners die? What if one of the owners becomes disabled or has unusual medical needs? What if one of the owners has a chemical dependency issue? There are a variety of instances where joint ownership is not recommended, even for married persons.
Another example is bank accounts. It’s also not unusual for an aging parent to add an adult child as a joint owner of a checking account to facilitate payment of bills and management of the parent’s finances with minimal hassle. Again, this is not failproof. What about creditors of the adult child? In some cases, the parent’s money is subject to the debts of the adult child. Sometimes, the adult child steals from the parent (sad, but true). On jointly-owned accounts, there may be limited recourse for the parent to recoup the misappropriated funds. There’s also the problem of ownership when the parent has several children but only one child is a joint owner – the non-owning children might be excluded when the parent passes away.
Joint ownership is not the comprehensive solution it may appear to be. In fact, it can create far more problems than it solves. My recommendation: work with an experienced estate planning attorney who can counsel you on the pros and cons of joint ownership and its alternatives. Let’s talk, and then you can make an informed choice that is tailored to meet your and your loved ones’ specific needs.