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Does Account Ownership Really Matter?

Mary and Paul had been married for over 50 years. Lately, Paul’s health had begun to fail and he needed Mary’s assistance more and more. Mary was happy to do it. She loved her husband, but she also felt herself getting more tired every day.

Like most married couples, Mary and Paul owned their assets in joint ownership. Their financial advisor assured them this would “avoid probate”, if one of them died.

Mary knew that someday Paul might need to go to a long-term care facility and decided to see a lawyer to determine if there were any options she needed to consider.

Upon reviewing Mary’s will and asset ownership, the attorney shared with her that if anything happened to her before her husband, he would automatically get everything because of the joint ownership.

Mary was pleased with this confirmation since that was their intention. The attorney, however, was not so confident. He explained to her that she was more at risk of dying than her husband because of the additional stress being put on her to care for her husband.

He continued to explain that, in many situations, when there is an ill spouse, the well spouse, who is often the main caretaker, has a much higher level of stress, often does not eat well or get enough sleep. Their health eventually fails too.

The ailing spouse, on the other hand, is in a much better position since they are getting all of their needs fulfilled through the caretaker spouse. In this case, he explained to Mary, that if something were to happen to her, all the assets going to her husband would likely be lost to pay for his care in a nursing home, which would be likely without her support.

In addition, the same would occur if she left everything to her husband in her will. Mary was shocked and concerned. No one had explained that to her and she had not once considered it, but realized it was quite possible. Something could happen to her first, and all of their assets would be lost to her husband’s care. So not only does a caretaker spouse face potential health issues, they also face financial issues.

He next explained several ways Mary could protect her assets and ensure her husband gets the best care, should something to happen to her.

Each solution, however, required her to change the ownership of their accounts from joint ownership and this was only the beginning. Joint ownership is rarely the proper way to own assets.

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