In the second part of a 6-part series, we'll look at Estate Planning Minefield #2: Putting Everything in Joint Ownership.

A recent Consumer Reports article correctly noted that it is very common for widows to add a child's name to their bank account, brokerage accounts, and/or real estate holdings. They understand that this allows the child to handle the assetsin the event of an emergency, and for the assets to pass without probate.

What these same folks usually fail to realize is that the child they name becomes a co-owner immediately, not just at the time of an emergency or a death. This means that the assets can immediately be used by that child. In addition, the assets can be claimed by that child's creditors, bankruptcy trustee or divorced spouse.

If you use beneficiary designations instead, you will retain control of your money while you are alive and give away the assets only at your death. It is free to set up beneficiary designations, or pay-on-death registrations for your bank account, brokerage account, etc. Your attorney can add beneficiaries to your real estate by use of a Ladybird deed. And you can provide for an emergency by having a properly drafted financial power of attorney - where your appointed agent acts FOR YOU rather than having ownership of your assets.

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