Clients often, sometimes at the suggestion of their bankers, add names onto accounts to make money accessible upon the incapacity or death of a parent. This often leads them to assume they don’t need a Power of Attorney (POA), and they don’t realize that Powers of Attorney are designed to permit access to accounts upon incapacity of a parent. There are some pros and cons of doing this in either way, as discussed in the article “POAs vs. joint ownership” from NWI.com.
The POA permits the agent to access their parent’s bank accounts, make deposits and write checks. However, it doesn’t create any ownership interest in the bank accounts. It allows access and signing authority. This is usually what individuals are thinking of when they create these accounts.
If the person’s parent wants to add them to the account, they become a joint owner of the account. When this happens, the person has the same authority as the parent, accessing the account and making deposits and withdrawals.
However, there are downsides. Once the person is added to the account as a joint owner, their relationship changes. As a POA, they are a fiduciary, which means they have a legally enforceable responsibility to put their parent’s benefits above their own. As an owner, they can treat the accounts as if they were their own and there’s no requirement to be held to a higher standard of financial care. You can see the following article for more on this point. https://www.galliganmanning.com/effect-of-adding-someone-to-your-bank-account/
Because the POA does not create an ownership interest in the account, when the owner dies, the account may pass to the surviving joint owners, Payable on Death (POD) beneficiaries or beneficiaries under the parent’s estate plan.
It also avoids the creation of a gift, which may have estate tax or Medicaid ramifications.
If the account is owned jointly, when one of the joint owners dies, the other person becomes the sole owner.
Another issue to consider is that becoming a joint owner means the account could be vulnerable to creditors for all owners. If the adult child has any debt issues, the parent’s account could be attached by creditors, before or after their passing. I worked closing on a case with the opposite scenario, a creditor a parent collected money that otherwise would have gone to the children.
Most estate planning attorneys recommend the use of a POA rather than adding an owner to a joint account. If the intent of the owners is to give the child the proceeds of the bank account, they can name the child a POD on the account for when they pass and use a POA, so the child can access the account while they are living.
One last point: while the parent is still living, the child should contact the bank and provide them with a copy of the POA. This, allows the bank to enter the POA into the system and add the child as a signatory on the account. If there are any issues, they are best resolved before while the parent is still living.
Reference: NWI.com (Aug. 15, 2021) “POAs vs. joint ownership”