Do I need a will if my spouse and I own all our property in joint names?

Generally, yes.  Like most questions about the law, the answer is, it depends. Depending on the character and size of your estate, holding property in joint names—while it may avoid the probate of a will—could result in unnecessary estate taxation.

Between spouses, there should be no federal or state estate taxes imposed on property passing from one to the other who survives. However, if the surviving spouse dies with the entire estate in his/her name, estate taxes which could have been avoided with proper planning, may become due.  Joint ownership alone with a right of survivorship might turn out to have unintended and unfavorable consequences in the absence of a good estate plan.  In addition, if spouses die within a short time of each other’s passing, the second to die may be without a will, in which event, all of the property would pass by intestacy (see “Why do I need a will at all?”) with possible unintended consequences and expense.

Posted in: Estate Planning and Elder Law