Book a consultation
email us icon QUESTIONS?
Send us a message
call us icon CALL US TOLL-FREE:
Ill senior man consulting with a professional consulting about joint tenancy with right of survivorship

Joint tenancy with right of survivorship may be a risky proposition

by Legacy Plan
March 30, 2017

There are many techniques that can help you avoid the potential costs and delays of probate. Just because all of these techniques can be entirely effective at avoiding probate does not, however, mean that they are all equal. With some of these techniques, the benefits of probate avoidance come with a downside of greater risks — risks that your planning goals may be stymied, or that plan could end up requiring costly and time-consuming court litigation to sort out.

Booklet opening animation of our free requestable booklet 'Joint tenancy and estate planning'

Joint tenancy with right of survivorship (JTWROS) accounts, as well as pay-on-death or transfer-on-death accounts, can be wonderfully useful tools in some situations. Sometimes, they can even make up a helpful part of your overall estate planning. In certain circumstances, they can be a simple and low-maintenance way ensure that your assets pass to your desired beneficiaries without the hassles, costs and delays of probate administration. However, in many other situations, they can be risky. They pose the potential of having your money wind up in the hands of people other than the ones you wanted or, only less problematically, requiring expensive and stressful court litigation in order to get your wealth to the beneficiaries that you wanted to have it.

Take, for example, a case decided by the courts in September 2016. The case involved the estate of man named John, who was a senior in declining health in the final years of his life. He had both a checking account and a savings account. He had several people listed on his checking account as authorized signors. They included, in addition to John, his daughter, a grandson and the grandson's wife. On the savings account, authorized signors included John, the daughter and the grandson's wife.

The problems arose shortly after John died. First, the grandson withdrew $22,000 from John's checking account. The grandson's wife then withdrew nearly $26,000 from John's savings account. This sum of almost $48,000 represented roughly 50% of the total amount in the two accounts combined. The couple claimed that they were entitled to the money because the accounts were joint accounts with right of survivorship. In an account that is truly a JTWROS, all of the “tenants,” or owners of the account, have equal claims to the account's assets in the event of the death of the account holders.

Using these types of accounts as a probate-avoidance technique can be harmful in some situations. They can potentially put your wealth at risk if the person you've added to your account decides to use the account funds for his own purposes, rather than your goals. Alternately, even if the person you've added to your account is above reproach, your assets could still be at risk if that person divorces or is successfully sued by someone.

In John's case, the problem was a lack of clarity. If the account truly was a JTWROS asset, then the grandson and his wife had the legal right to withdraw the funds that they withdrew. However, John's daughter, in her lawsuit, claimed that the grandson and wife were not joint tenants; they were only added to John's accounts as signatories as a convenience to John. Ultimately, the courts sided with the daughter. The trial court ruled that the grandson and wife didn't have any evidence to show that John intended for the money in his checking and savings to pass to the daughter, grandson and grandson's wife as a JTWROS account would. If the outcome reached by the courts was not what John intended, then at least some of the objectives of his estate plan were frustrated. Even if the outcome did reflect John's goals for the money in his checking and savings, it took an expensive and time-consuming court battle to achieve this end.

Careful planning can potentially help you avoid an unfavorable situation like what happened with this man's estate. There are ways to create a plan that will take the guesswork out of your planning goals. One example is a revocable living trust, which can allow you to dictate, with great specificity, exactly what you want to achieve with regard to each of your assets and each of your beneficiaries. In addition to this, it can also benefit you by avoiding probate while also sidestepping some of the risks involved with other probate-avoidance techniques like JTWROS accounts.

How do I create an estate plan?

There are numerous options and scenarios to consider when developing an estate plan that protects your legacy and achieves your objectives, and important decisions should be made with the advice of qualified lawyers and financial experts. Membership with Legacy Assurance Plan provides members with valuable resources and guidance to develop comprehensive estate plans that take life's contingencies into consideration and leave a positive impact for generations to come. Legacy Assurance Plan members also receive peace of mind that a team of trusted, experienced professionals will assist them in developing legal, financial and tax strategies that will meet their needs today and for years to come through periodic reviews.

This article is published by Legacy Assurance Plan and is intended for general informational purposes only. Some information may not apply to your situation. It does not, nor is it intended, to constitute legal advice. You should consult with an attorney regarding any specific questions about probate, living probate or other estate planning matters. Legacy Assurance Plan is an estate planning services company and is not a lawyer or law firm and is not engaged in the practice of law. For more information about this and other estate planning matters visit our website at

Phone - 844.445.3422
Email -
25 common estate planning mistakes booklet

Don't make estate planning mistakes. Avoid common mistakes with our free guide,
"25 Common Estate Planning Mistakes"

Legacy Assurance Plan Shield Logo
Subscribe to Our Monthly Newsletter!

We won't share your email, and we make it easy to unsubscribe!