Overruling Your Will

Overruling Your Will

If all property is in joint ownership or if all property is distributed through a will, things are simple. But when some property passes by each method, a person's plans may not be fulfilled.

Example 1: Bill's will leaves all his property to his sister, Mary. Bill dies owning a house jointly with his wife, Joan, and a bank account jointly with his son, Don. Upon Bill's death, Joan gets the house, Don gets the bank account, and his sister, Mary, gets nothing.

Example 2: Betty's will leaves half her assets to Ann and half her assets to George. Betty dies owning $1,000,000 in stock jointly with George, and a car in her name alone. Ann gets only a half interest in the car. George gets all the stock and a half interest in the car.

Example 3: John's will leaves all his property equally to his five children. Before going in the hospital, he puts his oldest son, Harry, as a joint owner of his accounts. John dies and Harry gets all of his assets. The rest of the children get nothing.

In each of these cases, the property went to a person it probably should not have because the decedent did not realize that joint ownership overruled his or her will. This might not be a problem in some families. Harry might divide the property equally (and possibly pay a gift tax). But Harry would keep everything and the rest of the family would either never talk to him again or take him to court.


In many cases, joint property can be an ideal way to own property and avoid probate. However, it does have risks. If you put your real estate in joint ownership with someone, you cannot sell it or mortgage it without that person's signature. If you put your bank account in joint ownership with someone, he or she can take out all of your money.

Example: Alice put her house in joint ownership with her son. She later married Ed and moved in with him. She wanted to sell her house and invest the money for income. Her son refused to sign the deed because he wanted to keep the home in the family. She was in court for ten months getting her house back and the judge almost refused to do it.