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How are jointly owned accounts distributed to beneficiaries?

Let's talk about joint ownership of estate assets in Michigan. In particular, let's talk about when a parent decides to add his or her child to an account. In all likelihood, when the parent dies, ownership of the whole account will pass to the child.

But what if there are other children, and the parent didn't want the entire account to belong to one child? What estate planning options are available to distribute the assets more widely?

One way of distributing assets to more than one child is to name one of the children as an agent of the account and the other children as beneficiaries. This setup will give the agent access to the assets while the parent is alive, and the assets can be distributed to the other children when the parent passes away.

It should go without saying, then, that parents will have to choose wisely which child should be the agent. Parents know their own children best but should communicate with all of them, if possible, when making this decision.

What if no one is named as a joint owner of an account, and no beneficiaries are named, either? In that case, the assets will be listed as estate assets and distributed in accordance with the parent's will. If a will doesn't specify how these estate assets should be handled, then a probate court will make that decision based on Michigan law.

Individual Retirement Arrangements (or IRAs) have different distribution rules attached with regard to child beneficiaries. To learn more about the specifics of this kind of distribution, estate planners in Huntington Woods would do well to consult with an estate planning attorney.

Source:, "Carissa Giebel column: Common issues overlooked in estate planning," Carissa Giebel, April 29, 2013

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