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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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The Key Differences Between Wills and Trusts

The Key Differences Between Wills and Trusts

When discussing estate planning, a Will is what most people think of first. Indeed, Wills have been the most popular method for passing on assets to heirs for hundreds of years. But Wills aren’t your only option. And if you rely on a Will alone (without a Trust) to pass on what matters, you’re guaranteeing your family has to go to court when you die.

In contrast, other estate planning vehicles, such as a Trust-based plan, which used to be available only to the uber wealthy, are now being used by those of all income levels and asset values to keep their loved ones out of the court process.

But determining whether a Will alone or a Trust-based plan (Trust and Pour-Over Will) is best for you depends entirely on your personal circumstances. And the fact that estate planning has changed so much makes choosing the right tool for the job even more complex.

The best way for you to determine the truly right solution for your family is to meet with me as your Personal Family Lawyer® for a Family Wealth Planning Session™. During that process, I’ll take you through an analysis of your personal assets, what’s most important to you, and what will happen for your loved ones when you become incapacitated or die. From there, you can make the right choice for the people you love.

In the meantime, here are some key distinctions between Wills and Trusts you should be aware of.

When they take effect
A Will only goes into effect when you die, while a Trust takes effect as soon as it’s signed and your assets are transferred into the name of the Trust. To this end, a Will directs who will receive your property at your death, and a Trust specifies how your property will be distributed before your death, at your death, or at a specified time after death.  The Trust is what keeps your family out of court in the event of your incapacity or death.

Because a Will only goes into effect when you die, it offers no protection if you become incapacitated and are no longer able to make decisions about your financial and healthcare needs. If you do become incapacitated, your family will have to petition the court to appoint a conservator or guardian to handle your affairs, which can be costly, time consuming, and stressful.

With a Trust-based plan, which includes a Pour-over Will, Durable Power of Attorney and health care documentation, you can include provisions that appoint someone of your choosing—not the court’s—to handle your medical and financial decisions if you’re unable to. This keeps your family out of court, which can be particularly vital during emergencies, when decisions need to be made quickly.

The property they cover

A Will covers any property solely owned in your name. A Will does not cover property co-owned by you with others listed as Joint Tenants, nor does your will cover assets that pass directly to a beneficiary by contract, such as life insurance.

Trusts, on the other hand, cover property that has been transferred, or “funded,” to the Trust or where the Trust is the named beneficiary of an account or policy. That said, if an asset hasn’t been properly funded to the Trust, it won’t be covered, so it’s critical to work with me as your Personal Family Lawyer® to ensure the trust is properly funded.

Unfortunately, many lawyers and law firms set up Trusts, but don’t emphasize the important of ensuring your assets are properly re-titled or beneficiary designated, and the Trust doesn’t work when your family needs it. I have systems in place to ensure that transferring assets to your Trust and making sure they are properly owned at the time of your incapacity or death happens with ease and convenience.

How they’re administered

In order for assets through a Will to be transferred to a beneficiary, the will must pass through the court process called Probate. The court oversees the Will’s administration in Probate, ensuring your property is distributed according to your wishes, with automatic supervision to handle any disputes.

Since Probate is a public proceeding, your Will becomes part of the public record upon your death, allowing everyone to see the contents of your estate, who your beneficiaries are, and what they’ll receive.

Unlike Wills, Trusts don’t require your family to go through Probate, which can save both time and money. And since the Trust doesn’t pass through court, all of its contents remain private.

How much they cost

Wills and Trusts do differ in cost—not only when they’re created, but also when they’re used. The average Will-based plan can run between $500-$2000, depending on the options selected. An average Trust-based plan can be set up for $3,500-$6,000, again depending on the options chosen. So at least on the front end, Wills are far less expensive than Trusts.  However, Wills must go through Probate, where attorney fees and court costs can be quite hefty, especially if the Will is contested. Given this, the total cost of executing the Will through probate can run $15,000 or more plus all of the other disadvantages of going through a Court proceeding.

Even though a Trust may cost more upfront to create than a Will, the total costs once Probate is factored in can actually make a Trust the less expensive option in the long run.  And if you think you can cut costs by having your “trust” done through an online program like LegalZoom or through a Trust-mill company, please think again.  While you will end up with a document with the word “Trust” on the first page, the document is likely filled with errors and problems that will leave your loved ones in Court proceedings that you thought you were avoiding.  Since the problem will be discovered at your incapacity or at your death, it will be too late to correct.  As the old adage goes “you get what you pay for.”  While we all like getting a bargain, your estate plan is not the place to cut corners.

During our Family Wealth Planning Session™, I’ll compare the costs of Will-based planning and Trust-based planning with you, so you know exactly what you want and why, as well as the total costs and benefits over the long-term.

As your 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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Not Married? You’re not alone – but you still need a plan

Not Married? You’re not alone – but you still need a plan

Approximately half of America’s population over the age of 18 is unmarried. While much of the discussion involving estate planning focuses on married couples, this topic is just as important for a single person. In fact, many times it is even more important that a single person have a well-coordinated estate plan. This is because the default laws governing estates often work poorly for people without a spouse and may not adequately provide for a significant other or unmarried partner. Having a cohesive and well-drafted estate plan will ensure that you protect and provide for those you truly care about upon your death.

Evolving Estate Planning

It is important to understand that your estate plan can change over time. You may eventually experience life changes like getting married, having children, or buying your first home that will necessitate changes to your estate plan. Although life is constantly changing, it is best to get in the driver’s seat early when it comes to estate planning.

If you die without a will — referred to as intestate — all of your possessions will be distributed according to the default laws of your state. While most state laws have a married person’s assets go to their surviving spouse and children, the same is not true for unmarried individuals. Generally, state law provides that a single person’s assets are passed on to their next of kin. This includes children, parents, and siblings. Noticeably absent for many unmarried people are provisions providing for a long-term boyfriend or girlfriend. And, if there are no surviving close relatives, the assets will likely go to the state. To avoid the state dictating what happens to your assets, it is vital that you have a properly drafted estate plan put together.

As an Unmarried Person, How You Own Things Is Very Important

There is an increasing number of couples that are not getting married, and other individuals who are deciding to remain single. For this group, estate planning is important because taxes and other financial benefits tend to favor those who have tied the knot. It also brings up the need to be very careful about how assets are titled.

How your assets are titled and how the beneficiary designations are prepared will impact how your assets will be distributed upon your passing. The most common ways to hold title to property is Tenants in Common and Joint Tenants with Rights of Survivorship. Property that is held as Tenants in Common means that each owner owns an interest in the property. At the death of one owner, that interest is transferred according to his or her estate plan, or intestate succession if there is no estate planning. This is not an ideal way for unmarried couples to own property because at the death of one of them, the other person will end up as joint owner with the deceased’s next of kin. Joint Tenancy is one option for unmarried couples because when one owner dies, the property automatically transfers to the surviving owner. There are several other planning strategies that can be beneficial for unmarried individuals — involving tax benefits, retirement plans, Wills and Trusts, Powers of Attorney and healthcare documents — if the right estate plan is carefully crafted.

Speak to an Estate Planning Attorney

If you do not have an estate plan yet, you should contact me, a Personal Family Lawyer® today. Whether you are married, single, or cohabiting with a partner, I can help you craft a comprehensive financial plan that is tailored to your personal situation and assists you in protecting those you care for the most. Give me a call today so I can help.  I can give you the peace of mind knowing you have a plan in place that will work for you and your loved ones in the event of incapacity and at death.

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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The Perils of Joint Property

The Perils of Joint Property

People often set up bank accounts or real estate so that they own it jointly with a spouse or other family member. The appeal of joint tenancy is that when one owner dies, the other will automatically inherit the property without it having to go through probate. Joint property is all perceived to be easy to setup since it can be done at the bank when opening an account or title company when buying real estate.

That’s all well and good, but joint ownership can also cause unintended consequences and complications. And it’s worth considering some of these, before deciding that joint ownership is the best way to pass on assets to your heirs.

So let’s explore some of the common problems that can arise.

The other owner’s debts become your problem.

Any debt or obligation incurred by the other owner could affect you. If the joint owner files bankruptcy, has a tax lien, or has a judgment against them, it could cause you to end up with a new co-owner – your old co-owner’s creditors! For example, if you add your adult child to the deed on your home, and he has debt you don’t know about, your property could be seized to collect that debt. Although “your” equity of the property won’t necessarily be taken, that’s little relief when the house you live in is put up on the auction block!

Your property could end up belonging to someone you don’t intend.

Some of the most difficult situations come from blended families. If you own your property jointly with your spouse and you die, your spouse gets the property. On the surface, that may seem like what you intended, but what if your surviving spouse remarries? Your home could become shared between your spouse and her second spouse. And this gets especially complicated if there are children involved: Your property could conceivably go to children of the second marriage, rather than to your own.

You could accidentally disinherit family members.

If you designate someone as a joint owner and you die, you can’t control what she does with your property after your death. Perhaps you and an adult child co-owned a business. You may state in your will that the business should be equally shared with your spouse or divided between all of your kids; however, ownership goes to the survivor – regardless of what you put in your will.

You could have difficulty selling or refinancing your home.

All joint owners must sign off on a property sale. Depending on whether the other joint owners agree, you could end up at a standstill from the sales perspective. That is unless you’re willing to take the joint owner to court to force a sale of the property. (No one wants to sue their family members, not to mention the cost of the lawsuit.)

And what if your co-owner somehow becomes incapacitated, through accident or illness? In that case, you may have to petition a court to appoint a guardian or conservator to represent the co-owner’s interest in the sale. While you and your co-owner always worked together, an appointed guardian may see his responsibility as protecting the other owner’s interest–which might mean going against you.

You might trigger unnecessary capital gains taxes.

When you sell a home for more than you paid for it, you usually pay capital gains taxes–based on the increase in value. Therefore, if you make an adult child a co-owner of your property, and you sell the property, you’re both responsible for the taxes. Your adult child may not be able to afford a tax bill based on decades of appreciation.

On the other hand, heirs only pay capital gains taxes based on the increase in value from when they inherited the asset, not from the day you first acquired it. So often, while people worry about estate taxes, in this case–inheriting a property (rather than jointly owning it) could save your heirs a fortune in income tax. And with today’s generous $5.49 million estate tax exemption, most of us don’t have to worry about the estate tax (but the income tax and capital gains tax hits almost everyone).

You could cause your unmarried partner to have to pay a gift tax.

If you buy property and place it in joint tenancy with an unmarried partner, the IRS will consider that to be a taxable gift to your partner. This can create needless paperwork and taxes.

So what can you do? These decisions are too important and complex to be left to chance.  Contact me, a Family Business Lawyer like myself who specializes in estate planning.  I will help you decide the best way to manage your property to meet your needs and goals.

I can assist you in planning to reduce estate taxes, avoid potential legal pitfalls, and set up a trust to protect your loved ones. I understand not only the legal issues but the complex layers of relationships involved in estate planning. I’ll listen to your concerns and help you develop a plan that gives you peace of mind while achieving all of your goals you have for your family. Contact me and mention this blog article and I can share with you how to obtain a Life & Legacy Planning Session valued at $750 free of charge.

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