Dangers of Joint Tenancy. One of my clients died and, under the terms of her living trust, left her assets "equally to my children." However, when I met with her children to settle her estate, I learned that she had left a $100,000 CD that was titled jointly in her name and the name of a daughter.
I told the daughter, "The CD passes automatically to you, 'by right of survivorship.' It is NOT part of the trust or subject to its terms."
One of her brothers asked, "Aren't you going to share the CD with the rest of us?"
She replied, "No! Mother wanted ME to have that CD!" (The temperature in the office then dropped about 50 degrees!)
I don't know why my client titled the CD jointly with her daughter, but the law was clear: jointly-titled assets pass independently of the terms of a will or trust! The daughter was entitled to keep the CD AND an equal share of the trust assets!
Perhaps my client wanted her daughter to have a "bonus" asset in addition to her share of the trust. Or, perhaps someone at the bank suggested that another name ought to be added to the CD's title for convenience in accessing the money at my client's death. We'll never know for sure, because my client is dead and can't explain her action. But, this story illustrates this important "doctrine" of estate planning:
The way your assets are titled at your death determines who will inherit them. Be sure that the way YOUR titles are worded conforms (not conflicts) with your estate planning objectives!
If you're unsure that your own assets are titled correctly, please call us (801-262-8889) for a complimentary opinion, and we'll help you correct any errors.