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!
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.)
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).
So what can you do? These decisions are too important and complex to be left to chance. 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. Contact us today for a consultation (888) 450-7999.