The Perils of Joint Property

People often set up bank accounts or real estate so that they own it jointly with a spouse or other family member. The appeal of joint tenancy is that when one owner dies, the other will automatically inherit the property without it having to go through probate. Joint property is all perceived to be easy to setup since it can be done at the bank when opening an account or title company when buying real estate.

That’s all well and good, but joint ownership can also cause unintended consequences and complications. And it’s worth considering some of these, before deciding that joint ownership is the best way to pass on assets to your heirs.

So let’s explore some of the common problems that can arise.

The other owner’s debts become your problem.

Any debt or obligation incurred by the other owner could affect you. If the joint owner files bankruptcy, has a tax lien, or has a judgment against them, it could cause you to end up with a new co-owner – your old co-owner’s creditors! For example, if you add your adult child to the deed on your home, and he has debt you don’t know about, your property could be seized to collect that debt. Although “your” equity of the property won’t necessarily be taken, that’s little relief when the house you live in is put up on the auction block!

Your property could end up belonging to someone you don’t intend.

Some of the most difficult situations come from blended families. If you own your property jointly with your spouse and you die, your spouse gets the property. On the surface, that may seem like what you intended, but what if your surviving spouse remarries? Your home could become shared between your spouse and her second spouse. And this gets especially complicated if there are children involved: Your property could conceivably go to children of the second marriage, rather than to your own. 

You could accidentally disinherit family members.

If you designate someone as a joint owner and you die, you can’t control what she does with your property after your death. Perhaps you and an adult child co-owned a business. You may state in your will that the business should be equally shared with your spouse or divided between all of your kids; however, ownership goes to the survivor – regardless of what you put in your will.     

You could have difficulty selling or refinancing your home.

All joint owners must sign off on a property sale. Depending on whether the other joint owners agree, you could end up at a standstill from the sales perspective. That is unless you’re willing to take the joint owner to court to force a sale of the property. (No one wants to sue their family members, not to mention the cost of the lawsuit.)

And what if your co-owner somehow becomes incapacitated, through accident or illness? In that case, you may have to petition a court to appoint a guardian or conservator to represent the co-owner’s interest in the sale. While you and your co-owner always worked together, an appointed guardian may see his responsibility as protecting the other owner’s interest–which might mean going against you.

You might trigger unnecessary capital gains taxes.

When you sell a home for more than you paid for it, you usually pay capital gains taxes–based on the increase in value. Therefore, if you make an adult child a co-owner of your property, and you sell the property, you’re both responsible for the taxes. Your adult child may not be able to afford a tax bill based on decades of appreciation.

On the other hand, heirs only pay capital gains taxes based on the increase in value from when they inherited the asset, not from the day you first acquired it. So often, while people worry about estate taxes, in this case–inheriting a property (rather than jointly owning it) could save your heirs a fortune in income tax. And with today’s generous $5.49 million estate tax exemption, most of us don’t have to worry about the estate tax (but the income tax and capital gains tax hits almost everyone).

You could cause your unmarried partner to have to pay a gift tax.

If you buy property and place it in joint tenancy with an unmarried partner, the IRS will consider that to be a taxable gift to your partner. This can create needless paperwork and taxes.

So what can you do? These decisions are too important and complex to be left to chance. Consult a law firm that specializes in estate planning. A good lawyer will help you decide the best way to manage your property to meet your needs and goals.

Our team can assist you in planning to reduce estate taxes, avoid potential legal pitfalls, and set up a trust to protect your loved ones. We understand not only the legal issues but the complex layers of relationships involved in estate planning. We’ll listen to your concerns and help you develop a plan that gives you peace of mind while achieving all of your goals you have for your family. Contact us today for a consultation.

One Call You Must Make After You Buy a Home (That You’ve Probably Forgotten)

During the home buying process, you worked with a lot of individuals: your realtor, the seller’s realtor, the title company, the loan officer, and the home inspector.  Now that you have finalized the purchase of your house, there is one more expert you need to call: your estate planning attorney.

Aligning Your Ownership with Existing Estate Planning

First, your attorney can help you review the new documents associated with your home purchase in conjunction with your existing estate plan to ensure that everything aligns and works towards your overall estate planning objectives. If your existing estate plans include a trust that owns all of your assets, it is crucial that your new home is titled in the name of the trust and not in your name individually (or jointly if married).

General Review/Update of Your Estate Plan

Since you have engaged in a new life changing event, now is the perfect time to review your existing plan. This is a great opportunity to make sure that the individuals you have appointed in the crucial roles of guardian, executor, agent, or trustee are still able to carry out those duties when the need arises. With the passage of time, these individuals may have moved away, died, or otherwise undergone a life change themselves that makes them a less than desirable candidate to act on your behalf.

While you are reviewing your estate plans, it is also important that you review the dispositive language.  Do you still want to have your assets divided the same way? Have the needs of your beneficiaries changed over the years? To ensure that you are protecting and providing for your beneficiaries, you need to make sure that the provisions are set up for the best individualized protection.

Lastly, if the purchase of your new home is in a different state, you will definitely want to visit an estate planning attorney.  By changing states, the documents you previously have prepared may not adequately protect you and your family.  Each state has unique laws regarding trusts and estates, you will need to make sure that any documents you are currently relying on are enforceable in your new state. Unenforceable or not-optimized documents can be just as bad as having no estate planning documents at all.

Give us a call.

Buying a new home is a great new adventure.  Give us a call so we can make sure that you are embarking on this new chapter in your life fully protected.

 

3 Tips For Every New Homeowner

Congratulations on the purchase of your new home.  Whether this is your first home or an upgrade/downsize, the purchasing of a home is a big event in your life.  When these major life changes occur, it is important that you are properly prepared. Below are a few things for you to consider now that you finally have the keys to your new home!

  1.  Update Your Address

Now that you are in your new home, it is very important that you update your address with the appropriate entities.  Your local United States Postal Office will have a form you can fill out. If you cannot make it into the post office, you can also update this information on their website.  This will assist them in forwarding your mail to you. 

To ensure that you don’t miss any important tax notices or refunds, you will also want to update this information with the Internal Revenue Service, using Form 8822, and your local state tax agency.

    2.  Make Sure Your House Title Coordinates With Your Estate Plan

While it is still fresh in your mind, reference your new deed to see how the property is titled.  Then, you will want to reference your estate planning documents to make sure that your property has been titled properly to achieve your estate planning goals.

For example, if your previous plan had a specific provision distributing your old property, you will want to make sure that you update this provision since you no longer own the previous property. On the other hand, if this is your first home and your estate plan includes a trust to avoid probate, you will need to make sure that your home was titled in the name of the trust and not in your name individually

    3. Check Your Life Insurance Coverage and Beneficiary Designations

Unless you were fortunate enough to pay cash for your new home, chances are you now have a large monthly mortgage expense. In order to protect your loved ones, it is important that you check your life insurance coverage. Should you die before paying off the mortgage, it is a good idea that you have enough life insurance to meet that obligation should you have a surviving spouse or children that will likely continue to reside in the home. Even if they choose to not remain in the home, the life insurance can provide valuable assets during what is usually an emotionally difficult time.

This is also a great opportunity to double check your beneficiary designations. Life changes happen so quickly that sometimes this can be overlooked.  If your designations do not match up with the rest of your estate plan, you may end up inadvertently disinheriting a family member or having the money fall directly into the hands of an individual without any guidance.

Lastly, now that you have a home and homeowner’s insurance, call your insurance agent to make sure that you are getting all of the discounts that you are entitled to.  Many insurance companies will offer discounts when you bundle services.  If you already have car insurance through a carrier and use the same company for your homeowner’s insurance, you may be entitled to a better rate that if you had both policies separately. In addition, homeowners often get discounts that renters don’t.

We’re Here to Help

Buying a new home is a big step and we are here to help.  Give us a call and we can help make sure that your new purchase and estate planning are working together to carry out your goals.