Q. Will we be able to save probate costs by having all our property owned jointly? We have a house, a car and some savings accounts.
A. You should have a will and probably should own some property jointly and some separately. Here's what financial planner Alexandra Armstrong advises her clients:
Your house: Married couples traditionally own their homes jointly for psychological reasons and for the protection it gives them against certain types of law suits and debt collection. Some lenders will only issue mortgages to a husband-and-wife team.
But the 1981 tax law might make it more advantageous for one partner to own the home outright. Check this out with a tax specialist.
Your car: Joint ownership is usually not a good idea. Both partners can be sued for an accident involving a jointly owned car.
Also, if one partner is injured in a car by the other, you might be able to sue to obtain damage money from the insurance company.
Bank accounts: It's a good idea to maintain a joint checking account for monthly household expenditures.
But any larger amounts should be put into separate checking or savings accounts. Some states require banks to cut off access to joint accounts on the death of one co-owner.
Stocks and bonds: Not a good idea to be owned jointly. Separate ownership does away with double signatures when it's time to sell.