The Law Society #SolicitorChat Q&A recently held a live discussion surrounding jointly owned assets and how they are distributed after the death of one party. There is often confusion that occurs with the assumption that the surviving partner will then take full ownership.
Q1. If someone dies with money in a joint bank account, who will this money pass to?
Money held in a joint bank account will automatically pass to the surviving person named on the account. The bank account will usually be transferred into the surviving account holder’s name, on receipt of the deceased holder’s death certificate.
Q2. What do the terms ‘joint tenants’ and ‘tenants in common in property’ mean, and how does this affect what you can leave in your Will?
Individuals may own their property (land and buildings) as ‘joint tenants’, which means that when one owner dies, the property will automatically pass to the surviving joint owner, regardless of the provisions in their Will.
If a property is held as ‘tenants in common’, everyone owns a specified share of the property. This can be in equal or unequal shares.
On the death of one of the owners, their share of the property does not automatically pass to the surviving joint owner(s) and instead passes following the provisions in their Will or, failing that, the intestacy provisions.
Q3. Is it possible to leave personal items, such as furniture or artwork, to another person in your Will if the item is in your shared property?
Yes, if they are owned by you and not considered to be jointly owned assets. Items in a jointly owned property may be considered to be jointly owned unless evidence of who purchased the item can be provided.
Q4. How can a solicitor help to make sure the assets you leave behind go to the right people?
A solicitor can assist with preparing a Will that clearly specifies who you would like to receive your assets and discuss any queries regarding ownership of assets.
Q5. What is a letter of wishes, and how can it benefit people with shared assets?
A letter of wishes is separate from a Will and can be used to state who you would like to leave your assets to and accompanies your Will.
Q6. What happens if an individual does not want to stipulate in the Will who receives their personal items?
In that case, they can leave these to a specified individual and ask that they distribute them in accordance with any letter of wishes they have made known to them.
This has the advantage of an individual not needing to change their Will, if their wishes subsequently change. However, a letter of wishes is not legally binding and only guides the individual distributing your assets.
If you would like to discuss further any of the points raised in our article, our specialist Private Client Team can guide you through the Wills, Trusts, and Probate process. Please get in touch with our dedicated Wills, Trusts and Probate team by calling 01603 598000 or by emailing email@example.com.
*The information provided in this article is designed to provide helpful information on the subject, not specific legal advice.