We participated in
#SolicitorChat on Twitter this morning, answering questions about Wills and jointly owned assets. Andrew Milburn from our Wills and Probate team was on hand to answer the questions. If you were not able to follow the chat live, we set our answers out below:
1. If someone dies with money in a joint bank account, who will this money pass to?
This can be a bit of a grey area which can lead to disputes. The majority of joint accounts (but not all) are seen to pass to the survivor. Therefore, the banks will just remove the deceased account holder’s details upon sight of the death certificate. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the joint owner is entitled to the funds.
For example, it may be that the funds really belonged to the deceased owner who put the other person’s name on the account for ease of access (something that we would not advise doing!); but that they never intended for the funds to pass upon death. Beneficiaries of the estate may therefore argue that the funds should form part of the estate and not pass to the survivor. As estate disputes can be very costly, it’s best to avoid any ambiguity and potential disputes.
2. What is the difference between ‘joint tenants’ and ‘tenants in common’ and how does this affect what you can leave in your will?
If two people own a property as joint tenants and one of them dies, the property passes to the survivor. This is through the right of survivorship. In other words, the deceased owner’s share of the property will not form part of their estate. Further and their will does not dictate who receives it.
If a property is held as tenants in common and one of the joint owners dies, their share of the property will form part of the estate and pass under the terms of their will. Or, if they don’t have a will, under the rules of intestacy.
3. Is it possible to leave personal items, such as furniture or artwork, to another person in your will if the item is located in your shared property?
Yes. However, it’s often hard to ascertain whether items belonged to the deceased person or whether they were jointly owned assets. If it’s in a jointly owned property, the assumption is that it will be jointly owned. Howeve, this can be argued against if there is, for example, proof of who purchased the property. It’s always best to clarify who will inherits such items in a will to avoid any disputes.
4. How can a solicitor help to make sure the assets you leave behind go to the right people?
By preparing a properly-worded will, clearly specifying who will receive such assets. A solicitor will discuss your assets with you and make sure that evidence of ownership is obtained where required, and advising you on the options available.
5. What is a letter of wishes and how can it benefit people with shared assets?
People may decide that they don’t want to specify in the will who receives personal possessions. Another option is to leave personal possessions to an individual (often the executors or a surviving spouse) and ask them to distribute the possessions in accordance with any letter of wishes that they subsequently leave. This is a convenient way of dealing with assets as you don’t need to change the will should your letter of wishes change. However, the letter of wishes in not legally binding so you are relying on the person who you have left the assets to in the will following your wishes.
If you would like some more information about making a will, we can help. Call us on 0800 988 7756 for a FREE initial chat.