Garton & Harris

Are wills necessary if all assets have joint ownership?

There are many reasons people might put off estate planning. One common reason is that they believe that it is unnecessary since all assets are co-owned by a spouse or, less commonly, children. The thought process here is that if one dies, the other will simply inherit the assets. While this might seem straightforward, forgoing wills for joint ownership can have negative consequences for some British Columbia families.

The first reason why this approach can backfire is that it is very difficult to remember every asset. While major assets like a home or bank account are unlikely to fly under the radar, personal items like jewellery, a piece of art, or a family heirloom may not have a designated co-owner. This can lead to conflict or ill feelings, and the court may need to step in to designate ownership of items, which is usually not preferable.

There is also the matter of both co-owners dying at the same time. In that case, the court would determine who receives the remaining items according to intestacy laws. This can get dicey when it is unclear which co-owner died first and, therefore, whose next of kin is entitled to the asset upon death. 

Once it is determined who gets the asset, additional complications can arise due to the fact that the beneficiary will receive the amount or ownership in full with no stipulations. This increases the risk that the asset will be mismanaged, especially if the next of kin is not financially responsible or personally prepared for the acquisition. These factors combined make it clear that discussing wills with a British Columbia lawyer is a good idea, regardless of one's joint ownership situation.

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