Atlanta Attorneys know there are many tools that can be used to facilitate the transfer of assets in an estate plan. Holding property jointly (in two or more names) is one method that has advantages and disadvantages. Joint ownership of real estate, bank accounts, and other property is common because assets owned jointly with rights of survivorship do not become assets of the decedent’s estate. These assets do not pass through probate to be distributed but are transferred by operation of Georgia law and automatically pass outside of the decedent’s estate to the surviving owner(s). When joint owners are spouses, this set up can be ideal. Because there is no delay in the transfer of property under joint ownership, the surviving owner can immediately take control of the property. This is especially useful if access to the property is urgent, time-sensitive, or when financial issues need to be resolved immediately upon the death of the decedent joint owner.
Joint ownership does have its downsides and should be carefully considered before being implemented in any inter vivos circumstances or estate plan. For instance, one scenario where it can be unwise to set up property ownership jointly is when a parent and child are named as joint owners. Problems can arise if the parent has other children who are not included in the joint ownership of the property or the child involved in the joint ownership is financially unstable. With multiple siblings, even if the Georgia will specifies that the joint property should be divided evenly between all of the children, the joint ownership property is not part of the estate. Thus, the surviving owner is not obligated to split the property and distribute it per the Georgia will. This is because the joint property transfers to the surviving owner(s) by operation of law. Thus, the property never becomes part of the estate and therefore is not subject to the laws of intestacy or distribution per the terms of the Georgia will. Also, if the joint owner is a child with financial issues, the parent can lose the property if the child’s creditors endeavor to collect outstanding debts. The child’s joint ownership interest can also be threatened if the parent has financial issues, which cause the parent to declare bankruptcy. This can oftentimes be the case if the parent has significant medical expenses or other expenses associated with growing older and not having earned income.
A Georgia Estate Planning attorney can provide other alternatives to placing property in joint ownership. One good alternative is to draft an effective estate plan that specifies how the property will be divided under a number of possible scenarios. Without a crystal ball we cannot foresee which scenarios are most likely, but they can include illness, remarriage of a spouse, bankruptcy, etc. With such variability, it is prudent to draft a detailed estate plan that can factor in multiple circumstances. Such an estate plan is especially effective for larger estates or in situations where a dispute between heirs and/or beneficiaries may be inevitable. Estate planning under such scenarios often involves the use of revocable and irrevocable trusts and annual gifting. Implementing these types of estate planning vehicles can be complicated and it is necessary to have an experienced estate planning attorney assist you.
If you have questions about the consequences of joint ownership or want to discuss the distribution of assets under probate, please contact the Georgia estate lawyers at The Libby Law Firm. Call us today to set up an appointment at (404) 467-8611. You may also communicate with us through our confidential “Contact Us” form on our website. The Libby Law Firm main location is conveniently situated in the Buckhead section of Atlanta. Our Midtown Georgia and Buckhead, Atlanta, Georgia offices are easily accessible, have plenty of free parking, and are far away from the hectic downtown Atlanta chaos.