FAQ - Wills and shared assets
The times that we are currently living in have shown that life can change completely overnight and the future can look uncertain. The best way of dealing with this uncertainty is to ensure that all your personal, future planning is in place. Private Client Solicitor Deborah Escott-Watson discusses how a Will can help dictate what happens with shared assets:
If someone dies with money in a joint bank account, who will this money pass to?
Money held in a joint bank account will normally automatically pass to the surviving joint owner. This is because of the legal effect of the joint ownership. Such jointly owned assets do not pass in terms of your Will. This could be a problem if somebody other than the surviving joint owner claims that it is their money that is held in this joint account.
What is the difference between ‘joint tenants’ and ‘tenants in common’ and how does this affect what you can leave in your Will?
If you own an asset with another person as joint tenants, then both of you own the whole asset in undivided shares. Assets held under this type of joint ownership will pass automatically to the surviving joint owner on death by virtue of the law of survivorship and cannot be dealt with in your Will. If the same asset was owned jointly but as tenants in common, then each owner would own a specified share. You can leave your share to somebody other than the surviving joint owner in your Will, or your share will pass in terms of the Law of intestacy if you do not leave a Will.
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 it is possible. The person wishing to leave personal items belonging to them situated in a shared property to another would need to be able prove sole ownership, if their sole ownership was disputed by the person living in the shared property.
How can a solicitor help to make sure the assets you leave behind go to the right people?
A solicitor is invaluable in helping with this by drafting a Will for you. A solicitor can ensure that your Will is drafted correctly to ensure your wishes can be and are carried out. Examples of this include identifying assets in such a way that a gift in a Will does not fail due to uncertainty. If assets are owned jointly, and you do not want your share to go to the surviving joint owner, then a solicitor can ensure that the tenancy is severed. If you do not have a Will, the Law of Intestacy determines how you assets are divided and who receives them. This may not be what you would want.
What is a letter of wishes and how can it benefit people with shared assets?
Sometimes, people do not stipulate in a Will who is to receive their personal possessions. They leave these items to their Executor to distribute amongst family and friends in their discretion, but guided by a letter of wishes which a person has left. This letter of wishes is not legally binding however, and if you want certainty it is better to leave specified items to specified people in your Will.
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