The easiest way to avoid probate is to own all property in joint tenancy with right of survivorship. When property is owned this way, it automatically passes to the survivor when the other owner dies. Three disadvantages of this are:
- either owner can secretly take the property at any time;
- either party's creditor's can take it; and
- if both parties die at the same time, there still has to be a probate.
To set up property in joint ownership, it must be titled with the names of both parties and the following words:
…as joint tenants with full rights of survivorship.
Merely putting two names on an account without this language does not mean the survivor gets it. This language can be on deeds of real estate, stock certificates, brokerage accounts and bank accounts.
Note: Some states allow married couples to jointly hold certain property (usually deeded property) as tenants by the entirety. This allows for an extra level of protection from creditors in states that allow it.
You should review how your bank accounts, stocks, mutual funds, motor vehicles, recreation vehicles and other property are titled. If you want them to go to your relatives or through your will, they should be in your name alone. If you want them to go to your joint owner, you should be sure they are properly set up as a joint account with right of survivorship.