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Warning: If You Own Property This Way, You May Accidentally Disinherit Your Own Children

Owning Property as Joint Tenants with Right of Survivorship: Worth the Risk of Disinheritance?

Owning property as Joint Tenants with Right of Survivorship is easy, common, and often disastrous. Sadly, children – both minor and adult – are often disinherited.

While there are several forms of joint ownership, the one most people use (and the one considered in this blog) is called Joint Tenants with Right of Survivorship. When one owner dies, the jointly owned asset automatically, by operation of law, transfers to the surviving owner.

  • Joint ownership is a very common way for married people to own their assets.
  • Joint ownership is also commonly used by aging parents and their adult children.

Joint Ownership Just Postpones Probate

In most cases, joint ownership merely postpones probate; it doesn’t totally avoid it. If the surviving owner does not add a new joint owner (or place the asset in trust) before he or she dies, the asset will have to go through probate before it can go to the heirs. Or, if the owners die at the same time, probate is required immediately.

Titling Assets as Joint Tenants with Right of Survivorship Can Cause You to Unintentionally Disinherit Your Beloved Children

Surprising to most parents, assets titled as Joint Tenants with Right of Survivorship are NOT controlled by their Will or Trust. In fact, if you are the first owner to die, you can’t control what happens to that asset.

  • If you add a spouse who is not the parent of all of your children as a joint owner, you will disinherit your children from a previous relationship.
  • If you add one child as a joint owner, you will disinherit your other children.

The transfer of ownership takes place immediately upon your death. Even if your Will or Trust directs that you want someone in particular to receive your share of a jointly owned asset, it will still go to the surviving owner. The surviving owner can then do whatever he or she wants with the entire asset because they have no legal obligation to honor any wishes that the predecease owner may have regarding their previous interest in the jointly owned asset.

Here’s an example:

After Robert died, Joan owned their vacation home outright. She remarried a few years later, and she added her new spouse’s name to the title. When Joan died, her children were shocked to learn that the new husband now owned the property, even though their father had always promised it would stay in the family and go to the three of them.


Other Risks of Joint Ownership

  • While it’s easy to add a co-owner’s name to a title, taking someone’s name off a title can be difficult. If the person does not agree, you could end up in court.
  • Your assets are exposed to the other owner’s debt and obligations. For example, if you add your adult son on the title of your home and he is successfully sued, you could be forced to sell your home.
  • There could be serious gift and/or income tax consequences.
  • If you add a minor as a joint owner, the only way to sell or refinance the asset is through a court guardianship.
  • If you need to sell or refinance and your co-owner is incapacitated and unable to conduct business, you’ll have to ask the court to appoint someone to sign for your co-owner (even if that co-owner is your spouse). Once the court gets involved, it usually stays involved to protect the incapacitated owner’s interest until the incapacity ends or the person dies.

Actions to Consider
  • To avoid both inconvenience and tragedy, contact McDonald Law Firm immediately at (443) 741-1088 to set up an appointment and have your asset ownership reviewed by Andre O. McDonald, a knowledgeable Howard County estate planning attorney based in Columbia, MD.
  • We will review your asset ownership and explain what will happen to your assets if you become disabled and when you die.
  • We will show you how to own your assets to best ensure your estate plan works, meaning it does what you think it’s going to do.

Joint ownership with a sibling, life partner, business partner, child, spouse, or anyone else, puts your assets and your children’s inheritance at risk. It may cause significant and unnecessary taxes and cause your estate plan to fail. To avoid both inconvenience and tragedy, you are invited to call our office right now.


Request a Consultation

For help with estate planning, special needs planning or elder law throughout Howard, Montgomery, Prince George’s, Anne Arundel, and Baltimore County; and Baltimore City, contact McDonald Law Firm, LLC.

McDonald Law Firm, LLC

Columbia Office

10500 Little Patuxent Pkwy, #420
Columbia, MD 21044-3563

Bethesda Office:

(By Appointment Only)

7315 Wisconsin Avenue, Suite 800 West
Bethesda, MD 20814

Washington, DC Office:

2101 L Street, N.W., Suite 300
Washington, DC 20037

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