Wills and Shared Assets

Listed Under: Blog


This week’s Solicitor Chat on Twitter covered Wills and Shared Assets. Here is a summary of the main points.

 When someone dies with money in a joint bank account who will this money pass to?

 It will generally automatically pass to the surviving joint account holder upon death of one account holder, under the rules of survivorship.

What is the difference between ‘joint tenants’ and ‘tenants in common’ and how does this affect what you can leave in your will?

Joint tenants both jointly own the whole property which passes by survivorship to the survivor. Tenants in common each own their own share, which may be equal or unequal. Their share would form part of their estate and fall under their will.

Is it possible to leave personal items, such as furniture or artwork, to another person in your will if the item is located in your shared property?

The general rule is that you can leave anything that you own in your lifetime in a properly executed Will, but of course you cannot make a gift in your Will of items which do not belong to you. So, your personal items, such as jewellery or clothes, can be left in your Will. However, items such as furniture may have assumed joint ownership so would be left to the surviving owner(s) of the property. It is essential that for items, such as artwork, ownership is made clear beforehand. It's important that you tell your solicitor if there may be any likely disputes. You should give a description of any item you are gifting to avoid any arguments in the family. It is often a good idea to appoint one of your Executors to be the final decision maker to break any deadlock within the family.

When dealing with distributing your belongings, how can a solicitor help to make sure the assets you leave behind go to the right people?

When your solicitor takes your instructions for your Will, they will ask you which assets you own jointly and which you hold in your sole name. The lawyer will then discuss with you which of these items will pass under your Will and which will not. You can then make an informed decision as to who to leave your Estate to. You will be asked to consider who you would like to be Executors and you need to select people who are trustworthy and who you believe will ensure that your wishes are carried out; these can be professional Executors and are often the solicitors who drafted the Will.

Your Executors have a legal obligation to distribute your Estate in accordance with your Will. Solicitors have professional obligations, as well as their Executors duties, so you can be confident your wishes will be carried out in accordance with your instructions

What is a letter of wishes and how can it benefit people with shared assets?

A letter of wishes is separate to your Will and you can outline in it how you would like certain assets to be used and who can benefit from them. It is a non-binding, informal, confidential expression of wish, setting out how you wish for particular assets to be distributed amongst, what is often, a wide class of potential beneficiaries. A Letter of Wishes is not a binding document but does give the family and Executors an indication of your wishes. There are occasions when it is better for this guidance to be provided outside the formal documentation of the Will. Your Will becomes a public document upon grant of Probate so any sensitive issues can be addressed in the letter of wishes without the contents being known publicly. If you have shared assets you can ask (but not compel) the other owner of the assets to consider giving certain items to individuals as lifetime gifts, deeds of variation or for items to be left in their Wills to beneficiaries once they no longer need them.


If you would like to make or update your Will, please contact us on 01492 596596 (Conwy office) or 01492 874774 (Llandudno office).