Estate Planning - Question:
Should I name one of my children as a joint owner on my bank account so they can help me pay my bills?
This is a question often asked by older clients who want their children to assist with or handle their financial affairs. While adding a child as a joint owner on a bank account may make bill pay and deposits easier in the short term, it could cause some unanticipated challenges upon the parent's death which may be avoided by planning ahead and considering all available options.
While there may be multiple ways to create a joint account with a child, most commonly the account is established as a joint account with rights of survivorship. However, adding a child to a joint account, specifically one designated with rights of survivorship, creates a legal contract wherein ownership is automatically transferred to the child if the child survives the parent, regardless of what the parent's Will directs. Unfortunately, this situation can spur unintended issues after the parent's death such as:
- Beneficiaries of the Will arguing over the parent's intent with respect to the joint account after death (e.g., non-account owners could argue the account was actually meant to be split equally among children according to the parent's directions in their Will); or
- The surviving account-owner child wanting to split the account equally among other surviving children. Despite their good intentions or desire to carry out their parent's perceived wishes, such a transfer by the surviving account-owner child may be deemed a gift to the other surviving children for tax purposes.
To minimize the risks outlined, there are several alternatives to naming a child as a joint owner on an account with rights of survivorship:
- Ensure that the parent has a current and effective General Power of Attorney in place that names the individual(s) the parent wishes to assist with financial affairs. Many times, a Power of Attorney will be required for a representative at a bank, for example, to speak with someone else trying to gain information on the parent's behalf. Consider adding children as Power of Attorney (POA) on the account rather than owner.
- Consider designating children or others as Transfer on Death (TOD) or Payable on Death (POD) beneficiaries. This can minimize the chances of the account passing through probate while ensuring the named beneficiary receives the account at the parent's death.
- Consider a revocable trust. A revocable trust can own bank accounts which not only avoids probate, but also eases the maintenance and management of the assets during lifetime and after death.
Prior to making any changes to asset titles, it is important to consult knowledgeable advisors, including an attorney, to review the estate plan, discuss individual goals and objectives for assets upon death, and advise regarding the appropriate estate plan structure.
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