Watch Our Nursing Home Masterclass

Should You Add Adult Children as Joint Owners?

Age Cut-Off for a Roth IRA
You’ve likely heard your friends or family—or even the bank teller, at times—counsel you to add an adult child to your bank account.

Should you add adult children as joint owners? When it comes to your bank accounts, you may have received advice that goes something like this: “If you want to have your children to be able to pay your bills if something happens to you, you need to add them to the account.” You may even hear that from your banker, according to Beck, Lenox & Stolzer Estate Planning and Elder Law. While the intentions are good, a recent Spokane Journal of Business article advises otherwise: “Adding adult children to accounts can be problematic.”

People are made to worry even more when they are told that if there is no second name on the account, it will be frozen upon death and no one can access it until a lengthy and costly probate process has occurred.

To do the right thing, many people respond by adding their most responsible adult child to the account. They don’t realize they are creating more problems than they are solving. A better solution exists, and it should be something taken care of when preparing or revising your estate plan.

Why wouldn’t you want to add an adult child as a joint owner to your accounts? Simply put, your last will and testament doesn’t apply to a bank account if it is a joint account. Most bank accounts are owned with a “joint tenancy with right of survivorship.” This means if the primary owner, the parent, should die, the adult child becomes the sole owner of assets in the account, regardless of what your will says.

Assuming that your intention is to split the assets in the account among several beneficiaries, this may or may not happen. The new account owner is under no legal obligation to share the assets, as they are solely and legally entitled to these funds.

Another problem: if the child decides to split the funds and transfer them to siblings, the IRS may see this as a gift subject to the requirement to fill out a gift tax return.

By having a joint owner, you may also expose these assets to creditor claims. What if the child named on the bank account causes a car accident and is sued? Those assets are considered owned by the child and could be attached by a creditor. If your child gets divorced, those assets may also be part of a divorce settlement.

Estate tax reporting gets more complicated. The IRS places an additional burden on accounts held as joint tenants with the right of survivorship. If the child unexpectedly dies first, the law places the burden on the estate to prove the child did not own the asset.

Is there a solution? Yes, a power of attorney.

A power of attorney is a legal document allowing an agent to act on behalf of the parent, providing authorization without ownership. The parent’s goal is almost always to provide authorization and access, but not ownership.

The POA can be made effective immediately upon signing to allow the child immediate access to the account for bill paying. It can apply not only to bank accounts but to all assets. Alternatively, it can also be limited to specific assets.

Your estate planning attorney can create a POA to authorize an agent to give them as much or as little control as you want. You’ll be able to determine precisely what you do and do not wish your agent to do. According to Jay Lenox, that is a tremendous benefit of getting estate planning done. Schedule a free consultation to discuss this and other estate planning issues you may have. Click here to begin.

Reference: Spokane Journal of Business (Nov. 9, 2023) “Adding adult children to accounts can be problematic”

Subscribe to Our Free Monthly E-Newsletter & Blog Digest!

Categories/Topics
Recent Posts

Need to Email Us?

If we are currently working with you or your family member, please DO NOT use this email as it may take longer to route your inquiry to the specific person working on your file. Instead, please call our office at (636) 946-7899 so we may better serve you

For all other inquiries: