Friday, February 14, 2014

Love, Money, and Joint Tenants

I can understand why married couples are often opting for separate accounts when it comes to consumer credit such as car loans and credit cards. It is mainly because the errors of one spouse normally don’t have an effect on the other spouse’s credit. If a husband has a late payment, it won’t affect his spouse’s credit. That is until they buy a house. The house is a major purchase in which both parties are deeply involved. This usually takes both incomes to make the purchase, thus both spouses are applying for credit jointly. It is usually at that point that a lot of couples start combining their credit.

But in this modern age, there are couples who are maintaining completely separate finances. There may be a variety of reasons for this. As mentioned above, a spouse may have very bad credit or perhaps even a bankruptcy on their record. The spouse may have problems managing a checking account and has repeated overdrafts or had written checks on non-sufficient funds. Many couples find that the best solution is to have a joint account in addition to each keeping an individual account.

A creditor can be justified in attaching those jointly held funds to pay a debt that only one spouse may have incurred. If a marriage is foundering or if a couple has severe disagreements about how to manage money, they may want to maintain separate accounts. With joint accounts, either party can "clean out" the other simply by withdrawing all the funds in the account.

As for savings, checking, and investment accounts it is wise to hold vesting as Joint Tenants or as a Totten Trust. In the case of a joint account, both parties, or tenants, are each other’s beneficiary. Each one is an owner of the account with equal rights of ownership and transaction.

One might explain Joint Tenancy as: Each tenant owns 100% of the account. Should one owner die, the other has the “right of survivorship” and will take over the funds without probate upon the death of the other joint owner. This is the most common form of account vesting for married couples here in California.

A Totten Trust places a beneficiary or multiple beneficiaries on an account. In the case of the accountholder’s demise, the funds go directly to the beneficiary without having to go through probate. It is a very simple process. In the case of multiple beneficiaries  the funds are divided equally between them. A Totten Trust can be very helpful when a couple is hesitant to have joint accounts for any reason but do wish to leave their assets to each other.

Of course, the difference is that in the Totten Trust the beneficiary has no rights to transact on the account while the accountholder is alive. In a joint account, each joint owner has equal rights to transact on the account.

If you have a complex estate or have multiple beneficiaries, it may be helpful for you to have a Family Trust or what is also known as a Revocable Living Trust. These types of trusts allow you to have very detailed instructions on how your estate is distributed. For more information on Living Trusts, please contact an attorney who specializes in family and trust law.

Love is good but it does not pay the bills or pay them on time, nor is love a good retirement planner. Sometimes love has to take a back seat to the realities of financial acumen and management. Today more than ever, your choice of a spouse can make a difference in the way you approach your finances. A spouse with poor credit and poor money skills who lack savings or a 401k could create an uphill battle for spouses who are good at money management. Let’s keep in mind that 70% of all marital arguments are about money! Ouch! Money is often cited as the cause of divorce.

One thing I have heard that is encouraging: If nearly 50% of marriages end in divorce, then over 50% last forever! That’s a stat I can live with.

Financial questions to ask before getting married
Questions you might ask yourself prior to making this financial decision:
  • Do I want a joint account with this person?
  • Do I trust this person to communicate with me about our spending plan?
  • How did his/her parents manage money?
  • How well does this person manage money?
  • Does this person take risks with their investment money or are they conservative? Has this person had a big loss due to a poor investment decision?
  • Will you pay the bills together or is one person to be responsible for them? Which way are you most comfortable?

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