Joint bank account, no will -- working as intended?
January 4, 2017 10:15 AM   Subscribe

I have joint banking and investment accounts with my unmarried partner. If I should die unexpectedly (i.e. before we marry, which is in the cards but probably not for several years), without a will, shall the joint assets pass to my partner instead of to my estate?

I know I should just make a will, but it may be a while until I get around to it and if existing law already does what I want then it's less urgent.

I expect that my estate would pass to my parents since I have no children or spouse. I'm fine with this as long as the joint accounts pass to my partner (who is gainfully employed and has a family safety net, so I'm not worried about financial stability), since those funds were specifically intended as joint savings.
posted by serelliya to Work & Money (8 answers total)
Verify that your joint account is a "joint account with rights of survivorship," in which case the contents become the property of the surviving joint owner and doesn't go through probate.

Get your will and a health directive done. If your finances aren't complicated it won't take long.
posted by Karaage at 10:19 AM on January 4, 2017 [7 favorites]

This article might be helpful.
posted by HuronBob at 10:19 AM on January 4, 2017

Do you have IRA or 4** (401k, 403b, 457) accounts? You should name a beneficiary on those. You can opt to list your partner as beneficiary, and that would happen outside of probate.
posted by Dashy at 10:43 AM on January 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

This is completely jurisdictional. In my jurisdiction, those assets would be frozen until probate.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:58 AM on January 4, 2017

It'll depend on your state laws to be sure, but more than likely any assets will pass to your parents, and if not them then your next closest blood relatives (like aunts, uncles, cousins) --- an unmarried partner has no legal rights. If you died tomorrow, your parents could come in and take anything you currently own. (And even worse: check on what happens to your home.... if, for instance, the two of you are living someplace where you are the sole owner or leasee, could your parents or landlord evict your unmarried, not-co-owner/not-on-the-lease partner? Scary thought!)

So, the solution is simple: name your partner as beneficiary on the accounts solely in your name plus make a will directing who gets your stuff, and of course make sure any and all joint accounts have 'right of survivorship'. Or else get married, because a legal spouse takes precedence over the parents of someone who dies without a will. But don't just leave it all hanging, hoping for the best.
posted by easily confused at 11:01 AM on January 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

As someone who is dealing with my mother's partner dying very suddenly - get a will. You would be amazed at the things we couldn't do because they weren't married and he didn't have a will. A this despite my mother making sure the major assets were held with rights of survivorship. The dude died with a negative net worth and 8 months later the estate still isn't settled.
posted by JPD at 11:09 AM on January 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

I know I should just make a will, but it may be a while until I get around to it...

Get around to it, but don't sweat the details. For $50 or so and an hour, you can make a will; Nolo is on reputable source for software.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 11:34 AM on January 4, 2017

You would die intestate in that case and your partner and your accounts are at the mercy of state law as far as who gets what. Getting a will done doesn't necessarily have to be a crazy long affair with a lot of lawyer involvement. Many states (and keep in mind estate law can vary wildly from state to state) have pretty liberal interpretations of what constitutes a valid will. I don't know what the laws of your state are but I will say this: make sure your partner has the ORIGINAL will, not a copy. I know that on my state that if there's any dispute and the original will can't be located, all bets are off. (Not a lawyer, just have had a front row seat to such proceedings in the family. What can happen without a valid will can make your head spin.)
posted by azpenguin at 6:41 AM on January 5, 2017

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