Jointly Owned or Titled Property
If you own property with another person as joint tenants, the property will go directly to the other person and will not be a part of your probate estate or governed by your Will. Moreover it will not be subject to the state's laws of intestacy if you have no Will.
Here in Connecticut and New York, slightly different state laws govern Wills, Estates, and inheritance. So if you live in Newtown CT or Pound Ridge NY matters.
Does My Will Govern
In many instances, people think that their Will governs who will inherit their property when in fact it doesn't, because it is governed by title or contract. For example, real estate and other assets owned joint or with rights of survivorship pass automatically to the surviving owner. Likewise, an IRA, pension plan, annuity, brokerage account, employee death benefits or insurance policy payable to a named beneficiary passes to that named beneficiary regardless of your Will.
This is why merely writing a Will is rarely sufficient to accomplish your goals. Instead, you need to look at all your property and understand how it will pass on your death. This is why reviewing beneficiary designations, in addition to preparing a Will, is a critical part of the estate planning process.
Joint Accounts for Convenience
Often, people have bank accounts or securities in the names of themselves and one or more children or trusted friends as joint tenants. This is often done for convenience to give the joint tenant access to accounts to pay bills. However, it is important to realize that the ownership of property in this fashion often leads to unexpected or unwanted results.
Controversies, including litigation, occur often between the heirs and the surviving joint tenant. The question is whether the survivor's name was added as a matter of convenience or management or whether a gift was intended.
Moreover, the planning built into an Estate and Will may be ruined by joint tenancies or changes in title or beneficiaries that give property directly to a person rather than under Will.
Power of Attorney
In some instances, a power of attorney giving the person the power to act on your behalf as your agent with regard to the account in order to pay bills will achieve your goals and it doesn't give them the money in the account when you pass away. This is an alternative to making the account joint.