The status of a married Georgia couple's assets is important for estate planning purposes. Although many couples have separate bank accounts it is important to realize that your spouse will likely not have immediate access to your funds if something were to happen to you. Therefore it might be prudent to establish a joint account to provide for common expenses such as the mortgage in the event of an emergency.
Many Georgia couples may own bank accounts in joint tenancy with rights of survivorship, which is a legal form of ownership in which two people own the account and the account goes wholly to one spouse upon the other spouse's death. This is a convenient way of making your spouse the immediate owner of an account regardless of any provisions in a will. This automatic and straightforward transfer makes this form of ownership very appealing to many Georgia couples.
One major drawback of joint tenancy is that in addition to sharing assets, joint tenancy can also share liabilities. This means that you may be exposed to losing property held in the joint tenancy if your spouse owns a business, has creditor issues or faces a lawsuit.
Some Georgia couples are fortunate enough to have accumulated significant amounts of wealth which presents unique estate planning considerations. Although the current estate tax exclusion is a lofty $10 million, this amount may drop down to as low as $1 million next year. Therefore couples who believe that they will be exposed to the estate tax should consult with an experienced estate planning attorney to discuss whether gifting some assets early would be a wise way to shield the couple's estate tax exposure.
Source: Forbes, "Estate Planning For Women (And the Men Who Love Them)" Deborah Jacobs, 5/19/11