ElderLaw News-The Estate Planning & Elder Law Firm, P.C. — MD, VA, DC
ElderLaw News
ElderLaw News is a weekly e-newsletter that brings you reports of legal developments and other trends of vital interest to seniors and their advocates. This newsletter is brought to you by The Estate Planning & Elder Law Firm, P.C., William S. Fralin, Esq., President., William S. Fralin, Esq., President.

Remedying a Common Estate Planning Error: Improper Titling of Assets

As elder law and estate planning professionals, when the attorneys of The Estate Planning & Elder Law Firm meet with you for the first time, they ask you to bring in the most recent statements for your financial accounts, deeds to your real property, and titles to your automobiles.

We are often asked why this much information is needed, when all the client wants is a simple will or a power of attorney. We request this information in order to provide you with the most comprehensive planning possible; it allows us to make better recommendations for you and identify and resolve any potential issues which would otherwise thwart your estate planning.

Your will or trust generally does not govern disposition of the following:

1. Any real property or accounts that may be owned jointly by you and another with the right of survivorship;

2. Any real property with a transfer on death designation;

3. Any account that may have a payable on death or transfer on death designation;

4. Retirement accounts, 401(k) plans, 403(b) plans, and IRAs;

5. Survivor benefit plans; and

6. Life insurance policies.

The assets in these accounts, plans and policies will usually pass to the surviving co-owner or the designated beneficiary of these accounts, plans, and policies. Beneficiary designations usually override the disposition of your assets as provided in your Will or Trust, as any accounts, plans, and policies that designate a specific beneficiary will be payable to that beneficiary. Frequently, beneficiary designations are made at the time the account was opened, but are later forgotten. As a result, we often see designations in place for deceased or divorced spouses. When we meet with you, we like to review your accounts, plans, and policies and their beneficiary designations to ensure that they are consistent with your estate plan. The more information you provide for us in this regard, the better we can assist you.

Often, a single, elderly client will name one of her children as joint owner on a bank account, with the intent that the child will help pay her bills and manage her finances. At her death, the client would like that bank account to be divided evenly between her three children, according to the terms of her Will. Because one of the children has been named a joint owner on the account, however, this may mean that only the named child will receive the remainder of the bank account on her mother’s death. The other two will receive nothing, because the titling of the bank account will override the disposition of assets in the Will. In many situations, a better alternative to this arrangement would be to leave the mother as sole owner of the account, have her sign a power of attorney naming the one child as her agent, to help her manage her financial affairs, and make the account “payable on death” to all three children. This would better fulfill the mother’s needs while ensuring that all children are treated equally upon her death.

Another common mistake relates to the titling of real property. An unmarried couple who purchases real property together may intend that at the death of the first partner, the second partner will own 100% of the property. They assume that because both names are on the deed to the property, this will happen automatically. However, if the deed does not specifically provide that the two own the property “with right of survivorship,” the first partner’s one-half interest in the property will pass according to the terms of his Will, or if he has no Will, to his heirs as determined by Virginia law. This mistake is easily corrected by preparation of a deed transferring the property into the name of the two partners as joint owners with right of survivorship.

These are just two examples of ways in which improper titling of assets can jeopardize an estate plan. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that just because you have a Will in place, everything you own will pass according to the Will. Allow the attorneys at The Estate Planning & Elder Law Firm to do a comprehensive review of your assets to ensure that their titling and beneficiary designations complement — rather than contradict — your estate plan.


If you are interested in having an Elder Law attorney from The Estate Planning & Elder Law Firm, P.C. speak at an event, then please call us at:

Maryland (301) 214-2229
Virginia (703) 243-3200
Washington DC (202) 223-0270

The Estate Planning & Elder Law Firm, P.C.

The Estate Planning & Elder Law Firm, P.C. is an elder law firm. We represent older persons, disabled persons, their families, and their advocates. The practice of elder law includes estate planning, estate and trust administration, powers of attorney, advance medical directives, titling of assets and designations of beneficiaries, guardianships, conservatorships, and public entitlements such as Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, and SSI, disability planning, income tax planning and preparation, care management, and fiduciary services. For more information about The Estate Planning & Elder Law Firm, P.C., please visit our website at http://www.chroniccareadvocacy.com.

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The Estate Planning & Elder Law Firm, P.C. encourages you to share this newsletter with anyone who is interested in issues pertaining to the elderly, the disabled and their advocates. The information in this newsletter may be copied and distributed, without charge and without permission, but with appropriate citation to The Estate Planning & Elder Law Firm, P.C. If you are interested in a free subscription to the Elder Law News, then please e-mail us at office@chroniccareadvocacy.com, telephone us at (703) 243-3200, or fax us at 703-841-9102.

This newsletter is not intended as a substitute for legal counsel. While every precaution has been taken to make this newsletter accurate, we assume no responsibility for errors, omissions, or damages resulting from the use of the information in this newsletter. The Estate Planning & Elder Law Firm, P.C. thanks the law firm of Hook Law Center for their input to this newsletter.

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