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Joint Tenancy Pitfalls: The ‘Simple’ Fix that Can Leave Your Family Broke

Joint Tenancy Pitfalls: The ‘Simple’ Fix that Can Leave Your Family Broke

There are many ways to own your assets. When you die, it is only natural that you want your family to share in the bounty of your hard work. As a way to simplify the transfer process and avoid probate, you may be tempted to add a child or other relative to the deed or bank account utilizing the ownership type of joint tenancy with right of survivorship (JTwROS). However, while this type of ownership delivers a lot of potential benefits, it may also be masking some dangerous pitfalls.

Under JTwROS, when one owner dies, the other owner(s) inherit the deceased owner’s share of the property proportionately.Take note that the words “with right of survivorship” do not need to be explicitly spelled out because the survivorship right is automatic with joint tenancy, unlike other forms of ownership types, such as tenants in common.  With JTwROS, its benefits are specific: ownership is transferred automatically without entering probate.  Because the property is transferred outside of probate, it is possible to keep this inheritance out of the clutches of creditors of your estate.   On the surface, this seems like a smart way to streamline the inheritance process, sidestep creditor baggage, and bureaucratic charges. But the risks may outweigh the benefits.

You May Pay the Price

One of the main problems with JTwROS is that when you enter into this kind of agreement, you open yourself up to additional liability. When you agree to a JTwROS, you put your assets on the hook for the other owners’ creditors, ex-spouses and flights of fancy.

Another problem with JTwROS, as it relates to real estate, is that there are now multiple owners of the property. You must now get the approval of the other owners if you would like to mortgage, refinance, transfer, or sell the property. It does not matter if you are the only one who is occupying the property or paying the expenses, by adding additional people as owners, you are giving away control.

With respect to any bank accounts, once you add an additional owner, that individual, as an owner, has the right to go to the bank and withdraw whatever money is in the account. The bank is merely going to make sure that the individual is listed on the account and will freely turn over your money to him or her. If a joint owner’s creditor serves the bank with a garnishment order, they can also seize the money in the account, even if the joint owner was only added to help avoid probate.

In my years of practice, I have seen in countless situations where an adult child is added to a parent’s bank account as a joint tenant in order to “make things easier” at death.  In too many of those situations, it is discovered later that the adult child was secretly withdrawing money and frequently making purchases for his/her own benefit, even though that person was only added to the account to assist parent and avoid probate.  When the parent finally realizes the value of proper estate planning and then discovers the financial abuse, it almost always creates family conflict and difficulty because the adult child does not want to lose control of those assets and becomes a roadblock for the parent to complete their estate planning properly.

Disinheriting Loved Ones

While JTwROS can have some impacts on you, it can also disrupt your estate plans because instead of property getting handed down, it’s handed over. For example, if someone with children remarries and a new spouse is added to the deed as a joint tenant, that new spouse will inherit the property, not the kids or grandkids. Because there’s a new spouse involved, the new spouse’s family will then be the ones to inherit upon his or her death, leaving the whole ‘branch’ of the original family may be disinherited—and not always intentionally!

Questions? Give Me a Call

Although there are some advantages to a JTwROS, don’t let simplicity or speed be your only measures. Give me a call so we can discussing all of your options and tailor a solution that will best fit your needs.

As a Personal Family Lawyer®, I offer expert advice on Wills, Trusts, and numerous other estate planning vehicles. Using proprietary systems, such as my Family Wealth Inventory and Assessment™ and Family Wealth Planning Session™, I’ll carefully analyze your assets—both tangible and intangible—to help you come up with an estate planning solution that offers maximum protection for your family’s particular situation and budget. Contact me today to get started.

This article is a service of Tara Cheever, Personal Family Lawyer®. I don’t just draft documents; I ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why I offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling my office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

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Are Payable-On-Death Accounts Right For You?

Are Payable-On-Death Accounts Right For You?

A payable-on-death account, also called a POD account, is a common way to keep bank and investment accounts out of probate, the court-supervised process that oversees distributing a deceased person’s property. Most people want to avoid their estate going through probate because their heirs will receive the inheritance faster, privately, and at lower cost.

Is a POD account an appropriate solution for your needs? Let’s examine what POD accounts do and how they fit into the overall picture.

POD Accounts: The Nuts and Bolts

A POD designation can be set up for savings, checking, certificates of deposit, U.S. savings bonds, and investment accounts. Upon the death of the account holder, the funds in the account pass directly to the named beneficiary.

Setting up a POD account is usually very easy. Typically, there’s a form you have to complete and sign to select your beneficiary or beneficiaries. Additionally, you can change beneficiaries whenever you like or name several beneficiaries (allowing them to split the money).

After the death of the POD account holder, the beneficiary can claim the money in a fairly simple process. Often, the beneficiary will need to show ID, provide a copy of the death certificate, and complete some forms provided by the financial institution.

Some Pros and Cons

So, POD sounds great because they are easy. But, there can be significant problems using this as the primary tool for passing along what you’ve worked to build.

What if a beneficiary predeceases you? If you do not name new ones before you die, then your estate is back to probate, thus negating the primary advantage of establishing the POD account in the first place!

What if the beneficiary is in the middle of a bankruptcy, divorce, or lawsuit? Because a POD account transfers the money to the beneficiary without any protection, your beneficiary may lose his or her entire inheritance simply because the death of the POD account owner occurred at the “wrong” time.

What if you are in a car crash and rendered legally incapacitated and unable to make decisions? The named beneficiary cannot access funds to provide for your needs. POD accounts only function at death. They provide no protection in the event of your incapacitation.

Trusts: A Comprehensive Solution

Here’s a comprehensive solution: establish a revocable living trust to hold your accounts. Just like a POD account, a funded trust avoids probate and is private. But, unlike a POD account, it can incorporate alternate beneficiaries, so your assets avoid court even if someone predeceases you. You can also provide long-term asset protection for your beneficiaries, protecting them against lawsuits, judgments, divorce, and bankruptcy courts. If you become incapacitated due to an accident or illness, the successor trustee can use the assets in your trust to pay for your care. Trusts provide all the benefits and peace of mind of a POD account without any of the downsides.

Remember: Estate Planning Tools are Context Dependent

Rather than pick tools out of a hat, you first need clarity on the big picture. What are your goals and priorities? What challenges do you face now—or do you anticipate confronting? Whom do you want to protect? What kind of legacy do you hope to leave?

I can organize your thinking and help you select appropriate planning tools from the arsenal. Want to discuss POD accounts, living trusts, or just your future in general? Please call or email me to set up a private appointment.

This blog is a service of Tara Cheever, Personal Family Lawyer®. I don’t just draft documents; I ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why I offer a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling my office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

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4 Warning Signs Your Elderly Relative May Be the Victim of Financial Abuse

4 Warning Signs Your Elderly Relative May Be the Victim of Financial Abuse

Some of the most disturbing crimes against the elderly involve financial exploitation. While physical abuse is often easy to spot, financial abuse can be more difficult to detect, as victims often have no idea they’re being swindled until their money suddenly vanishes.

Most victims are more than 70 or 80 years old, and involve crimes like fraud, embezzlement, identity theft, along with welfare and insurance scams. If you’re caring for an elderly loved one, be on the lookout for the following red flags of financial abuse:

  1. Unusual financial transactions or spending

The most obvious sign an elderly family member is being exploited is if there are sudden changes to their spending, banking, and/or financial practices. At the same time, the person may start behaving secretively, confused, or otherwise atypical about money matters. A few of the most frequent actions include:

  • Someone who is normally meticulous about their finances suddenly starts seeing unpaid bills, non-sufficient funds warnings, and/or unexplained credit card charges.
  • The elderly person starts opening, closing, or changing banking and investment accounts, especially without regard to penalties or fees.
  • Someone with consistent spending patterns starts showing a sharp increase in spending and/or investing.
  • The person’s account sees a suspicious increase in ATM use, withdrawals, and/or checks made out to unfamiliar recipients.
  1. The appearance of a “new” person in their life

Because they’re often alone and isolated, seniors are particularly susceptible to being “befriended” by strangers who take advantage of their loneliness to exploit them. And it may not be a stranger—relatives who haven’t been around for years can suddenly start spending lots of time with the person.

This situation is particularly dangerous when the new acquaintance, caregiver, or relative spends time in the person’s home, where they have easy access to the person’s accounts, financial statements, and personal documents.

One sign that something is amiss is if the senior acts unusual when it comes to the new caregiver or friend. They may seem nervous when that person is around, stop participating in their usual social events, or be reluctant to speak about the person with you. This is a red flag the new person may be trying to isolate or control them.

  1. Unneeded goods, services, or subscriptions

Outside of loneliness, the elderly are often physically unable to handle household chores and maintenance like they used to. Given this, they’ll likely need service providers to take care of the work for them. But every new person they surround themselves with is a potential swindler.

Watch for unscrupulous door-to-door salesmen and home repair contractors, who stop by offering unsolicited products or services, especially related to home remediation issues. And they don’t have to physically present to perpetrate fraud—there are countless telemarketing and email scams that target unsuspecting seniors in order to make a quick buck or steal their identity.

One fairly common scam involves inviting the older person to a free lunch or dinner in exchange for listening to a “seminar” about a financial product or service. The elderly often feel obligated to “buy something” after getting what they thought was a free meal.

Make sure that another adult relative is present before signing any contracts, and always consult with us if you’re unfamiliar with a new investment or financial opportunity.

  1. Changes to Wills, Trusts, Titles, Power of Attorney, etc.

The worst cases of financial abuse of the elderly can even involve the person making changes to Wills, Trusts, and other Estate Planning documents. Other potentially harmful changes can involve deeds, refinanced mortgages, property titles, and/or adding someone to a joint account.

Pay especially close attention if the older person seeks to grant power of attorney to someone out of the ordinary, as this can open the door for massive theft of assets and potentially fatal changes in a senior’s caregiving services.

One major advantage to establishing a relationship with a lawyer during your early years is so I can get to know you while you’re young, healthy, and clear, and then monitor if anything goes awry in your later years.

One reason financial scams are so hard to detect is that the elderly—like all of us—are embarrassed to admit they’ve been swindled, or they may not want to get a new “friend” or relative in trouble by telling others about their suspicions.

However, anyone can fall prey to financial fraud, so it’s important the elderly know that you’ve hired me as your Personal Family Lawyer® to provide trusted advice and guidance for all financial and legal matters. I can help secure your family’s most valuable assets with robust legal protections to prevent fraud and scams of all kinds. Call me today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session to make the most empowered and informed decisions for yourself and the family members you love.

This article is a service of Tara Cheever, Personal Family Lawyer®. I don’t just draft documents; I ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why I offer a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling my office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

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