Bruce and Mary are high school sweethearts who love to travel. Bruce worked while Mary stayed at home to raise their three children. Life was good, and after 12 years of marriage, Bruce and Mary felt inseparable. One fine day Bruce is involved in a car accident and unexpectedly passes away. Mary and the children are devastated.
A Love story…
Bruce did not have an estate plan. He held the family home and bank accounts in joint tenancy with Mary. Bruce also left a substantial life insurance policy, which named Mary as the sole beneficiary. Mary inherited everything at his death and used the money to care for their children.
As a single parent, Mary wanted to make sure her children would be cared for in the event she fell ill or passed away. She met with an attorney, and completed an estate plan leaving everything to her three children. Five years later, Mary remarries. Her new husband, Jim, has three children from a prior marriage as well.
Once again, everything was held in joint tenancy with the right of survivorship assuming Mary would survive Jim who was 15 years her senior. Mary even added Jim as a joint tenant with the right of survivorship on the deed to the home she once shared with Bruce. Unfortunately, Mary unexpectedly passes away first. Mary’s children meet with Jim to review Mary’s will. To their surprise, the will is worthless and so is their inheritance. Jim inherited everything: his property with Mary as well as the assets belonging to Bruce and Mary. Mary’s children have been accidentally disinherited!
What about Mary’s will? Doesn’t it leave everything to her children?
A will provides for the disposition of assets titled in your name, only. Any assets held in joint tenancy with the right of survivorship transfer automatically upon death to the surviving joint tenant. Therefore, once Mary passed away her interest in the family home and bank accounts was given to Jim, and there was nothing left to transfer in her will.
What about Jim? Isn’t he obligated to give Mary’s children something?
Jim is the sole owner of all the assets. He does not have a legal obligation to give anything to Mary’s children. Jim can leave all of his assets, and those assets belonging to Bruce and Mary, to his three children.
This is scary. How can I avoid accidentally disinheriting my children?
(1) Start with a comprehensive estate plan that takes into consideration your family dynamics.
(2) Make sure your asset titles and beneficiary designations coordinate with your estate plan.
- At a minimum, meet with an attorney to review your estate plan every five years to keep it current.
Joint tenancy can be a convenient method to transfer property, but it can also have unintended consequences. Do not rely on joint tenancy to provide for you or your loved ones. Contact Tiffanie B. Powell & Associates, P.C. to start the estate planning process – TODAY!