Property Ownership and Comprehensive Planning

Everyone wants a plan that is going to work the way that they want. Unfortunately, there are many ways that a plan can fall apart. How you own your property makes a huge difference to whether your overarching estate plan will work.

For example, a simple mistake can completely eradicate your well-drafted trust. Most seniors own their property jointly with right of survivorship, which means that whoever survives will receive all of the property at death. This often occurs with assets such as bank accounts. Seniors frequently name trusted children as joint account holders to help them write checks. Unfortunately, this can ruin your overarching estate plan, regardless of the senior’s good intentions. For example, if you have a joint account with your daughter that contains $50,000, the law says that the entire account belongs to her at your death if it is designated “joint with right of survivorship.” This is true even if you have three other children who would inherit under your will. Your daughter may share the account with your other children, but she may also believe that you wanted her to have that money in exchange for helping you with your finances. You can resolve these types of issues with good advice about proper planning.

Likewise, it’s important to update your beneficiary designations on any life insurance policies or retirement accounts (such as IRAs, 401ks, or 403bs) so that they remain consistent with your overarching estate plan. Failure to update your beneficiaries could result in these assets passing to a deceased spouse. In such cases, you may pay unnecessary administrative fees and probate costs on these assets.

It’s important to remember that planning involves more than just having the right documents in place. Often, people are not really protected the way that they think they are, as they have not received proper advice about how to get their plan to work for them. Ultimately, your planning should be comprehensive, where everything fits together the way that you want.

If you need assistance with your comprehensive plan, or if you have questions about government assistance programs such as Medicaid, Veterans Benefits, or other Special Needs programs, consider W.G. Alexander & Associates – we offer a unique blend of asset protection, Elder Law and estate planning. You can also attend our free seminars, learn more through our website at, or call us at (919) 256-7000.

Attorney Bill Alexander discusses these issues and more every Tuesday morning on W.G. Alexander & Associates’ radio program, “Asset Protection Today,” on TalkRadio 850 WPTK (AM). Be sure to listen from 9:00-10:00 AM.