Yes, joint ownership of an account overrides a Will. The joint ownership will be effective over and supersede any directions in your Last Will and Testament regarding a specific account and how those assets are divided.
Upon the death of one joint account owner, the other family member on the account, pretty well automatically, becomes the sole and full owner of the account and has full rights to the account and contents of the account.
This is true regardless of whose account it was originally or how much more one joint account holder contributed to the account versus the other.
Are Joint Accounts Used to Pay Any Debts?
The estate beneficiaries have no obligation to make the contents of the account part of the deceased person’s estate or even to use the funds to pay funeral costs, creditor claims, or other estate expenses.
Because the total value of the account transfers to the other owner automatically, you need to be very careful of your goals and intentions when adding someone on an account as a joint account owner.
What are the Goals of Joint Bank Accounts and Wills?
If your goal is for the joint account owner to receive everything in the account upon your death, then having a joint account is great and helps you avoid probate court. On the other hand, if you wanted distribute estate assets to more than one person under your will or to help pay off expenses and debts, then you need to think twice and consider alternatives.
Most of the time joint account owners are spouses and the other spouse is also the primary beneficiary of the Will or other estate plan.
In that case there really is not much of an issue. The estate’s assets and any other assets don’t have to go through probate the beneficiaries have easy access to any and all accounts.
What about When the Joint Accounts are for Helping to Pay Bills?
However, especially later in life for someone, it is common for someone to add a child or other third party on all accounts so that that person can help the primary owner pay bills or otherwise help with finances.
A lot of times in this circumstance, that child or other person that was helping pay bills suddenly becomes the sole owner of all of the funds and there’s really not much anyone else can do to stop it unless the joint owner voluntarily makes the funds available.
I have seen time and time again where tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars go to one person when the deceased person’s intentions and Will designated for their estate to be divided in another way.
Does Power of Attorney Matter in the Probate Process?
One of the most common times this comes up is also when an agent that was granted Power of Attorney is added as a joint account owner or otherwise adds themselves on an account.
If you designated an agent through a Power of Attorney, know that that they do not need to be added on the account as an owner in order to for them to use the Power of Attorney and help with finances.
What if I Don’t Want Anyone Else to Receive the Bank Accounts?
Joint account assignment should be used only if you intend for the other joint owner to receive all of the funds if you pass away. If ownership of your account is in conflict with your intent and provisions in your Last Will and Testament, you need to look into other options, and seek legal counsel.
The best practice is to speak to a knowledgeable probate attorney to get advice and to understand what will happen with each of your assets upon death.