When James was in college, his father was generous enough to buy him a home. James and his dad took title to the home as Joint Tenants With Rights of Survivorship. A few years later, James met Ellen, and they got married. James’ house was more than big enough for the two of them, and it was in a great location, so they decided that they would keep his house and live there. Worried about tension in the family, and wanting to make sure that Ellen would get the house if anything happened to him, James made a will leaving all of his property to her. That did the trick – if James passes away, Ellen gets the house, right? Wrong!
When you hold property with another person as Joint Tenants With Rights of Survivorship (JTWROS), and one of the owners passes away, the property automatically passes to the surviving owner outside of probate. So, your will does not apply at all to property you hold as JTWROS.
This is also true of joint bank accounts, and of property for which you designate a beneficiary. So, your life insurance policy, payable on death accounts, and retirement accounts for which you’ve designated beneficiaries are not controlled by your will.
It’s important that both you and your estate planning attorney know exactly how you hold title to your property. It’s also important that you review your entire estate plan periodically, including your beneficiary designations. Just changing your will is often not enough to ensure that your property will end up where you intend it to.
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