Will there be any difficulty withdrawing funds from joint accounts that my mother and I share?

Bmwsolo asked...

I take care of my 86-year-old mother's financial needs and investments. She's a widow who lives alone and values her independence. She has checking, savings, and CD accounts for a total value of approximately 450K. All of the accounts are set up as joint accounts in her name and mine. My stepbrother and I would be her only survivors. Unfortunately, my stepbrother lives across the country with his family and has no involvement in her care or life. My question is that since the bank accounts are in both of our names would I have difficulty withdrawing any amount necessary should her health care needs increase or change? The second question is, would my stepbrother have any right to any remaining bank funds after my mother leaves us? (He does not believe mom has any money and she does not want me to tell him). I realize that a will would help solve these questions but mom just does not believe in them. She is a stubborn person and I can't even persuade her to move in a senior center for companionship and to be properly looked after. Luckily, she does not required any special care at this time but in time I would expect that she may. I appreciate getting your feedback.

Expert Answer

Steve Weisman hosts the nationally syndicated radio show A Touch of Grey, heard on more than 50 stations, including WABC in New York City and KRLA in Los Angeles. He is a practicing lawyer specializing in estate planning and is admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court. He's a public speaker and commentator who has appeared on many radio and television shows throughout the country, and he's the legal editor of Talkers magazine, the preeminent trade publication of talk radio. His latest book is The Truth About Avoiding Scams.

Assets that are held in joint names generally pass to the surviving joint owner upon the death of the other joint owner. This means that when your mother passes away, whatever assets remain in the various joint accounts would become payable to you alone -- you would have no difficulty getting access to the funds.

Joint property isn't generally subject to the jurisdiction of the Probate Court. All you would have to do is just withdraw the funds from the various accounts. However, there is one exception to this rule. If your mother designated you as a joint owner merely for convenience purposes and did not intend to have the assets pass to you upon her death, the joint accounts would be part of her estate and your stepbrother would have a claim for half of his mother's joint accounts.

It would be helpful for her to write a document that indicates what her intention is as to the joint accounts. Another point to keep in mind: if she requires long-term care in a nursing home in the future, the joint checking, savings and CD accounts would all be considered her assets if she were to apply for Medicaid.