Law News and Tips


Fred Vilbig - Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Years ago a woman came to see me about her son. She told me that he wouldn’t let her have her investments. Kind of an odd statement, don’t you think? So here’s the story.

The woman (I’ll call her Rachel) had been married for years to a successful businessman, and they had had four children. Her husband died when she was 69. She lived alone for 10 years, but eventually the loneliness got to her. So what does any 79-year-old woman looking for love do? That’s right. She ran an ad in the Riverfront Times.

Rachel met George (not his real name either). George was 10 years younger than Rachel. Rachel’s son, Billy, did not like George.

The problem was that to avoid probate, Rachel had put her home and investments in joint names with Billy. With a joint bank account, either joint owner can withdraw the money. That’s not the case with any other assets. In all other cases, both joint owners must agree to cash out or retitle the joint assets.

Billy refused to cooperate. The assets were frozen. He did give Rachel an allowance, but how demeaning is that? Years of litigation followed.

Although people hate to think about dying or to spend the money on an estate plan, joint ownership is not the solution. It usually ends in a mess. It simply is a bad idea.

Post Script: although 10 years younger, George’s health was bad. He’d have to catch his breath when he got to the top of the stairs. George predeceased Rachel. While driving Rachel home from the funeral (her kids didn’t even come), Rachel said, “I don’t regret it a bit. My years with George were the happiest time of my life.” The family never reconciled.
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