Many people use joint tenancy as an estate planning method because they believe it's an effective and low-cost way to avoid probate. While it can delay probate, it cannot totally avoid the costs, delay, lack of privacy, lack of family control and hassle of the probate process.
Joint tenancy with rights of survivorship is the most common type of joint ownership used in an estate plan to avoid probate. The survivorship language in the deed typically directs that the property interest be transferred to the surviving owner or owners upon death. The property would be subject to probate upon the death of the last surviving owner.
A common example of the use of joint tenancy with rights of survivorship is for parents to add their children as joint owners of the family home. Although this strategy may enable them to delay probate if the parents pass away before their children, there are many potential problems with this decision. Some of these problems are:
- Probate is delayed, not avoided
- Property is exposed to the life events of all owners, including the children's divorce and judgments
- Original owners lose control of property
- It does not provide authority to act if a joint owner is incapacitated
- Family members can be unintentionally disinherited
- Full step-up in basis is lost
- No asset protection is provided