I gave my sister-in-law immediate access to enough money to pay my bills

Dear Len & Rosie,

I hope this is a simple question requiring a simple answer. I have a will requesting what I want done and who gets what after I die.

I also want my sister-in-law to get money to defray my burial expenses. I want to add her name to my checking account as a joint tenant so she will have immediate access to enough money to pay my bills.

I have heard or read somewhere that by adding her name to my checking account I would invalidate my will. Is this correct?


Dear James,

If attorneys could give simple answers to simple questions we’d be out of business. Still, we will do my best.

You will not “invalidate” your will by adding your sister-in-law to your checking account as a joint tenant. However, your will controls the disposition of property within your probate estate only. Your will cannot control property outside of your probate estate.

After you die, your probate estate will consist of everything you own on your death that does not automatically pass to another person by a right of survivorship or “pay on death” beneficiary designation. Also, if you have a trust, property held in the trust will not be in your probate estate, because you do not own it; the trustee of the trust does.

If you add your sister-in-law’s name to your checking account as a joint tenant, she will own the account after your death by right of survivorship, regardless of what you say in your will. Remember, joint tenancy accounts do not belong to your probate estate.

She will not be legally obligated to use the money to pay for your burial expenses or anything else for your benefit. The money will be hers, and you can rely only upon her good will that she will do as you wish.

If you trust her, then you can add her name to your account as a joint tenant and hope for the best. Alternatively, you can make arrangements for your death ahead of time by prepaying for your burial in advance.

But even if you do nothing, your burial will still be taken care of. After probate of your estate is opened, your Executor or Administrator will simply pay the mortuary from the assets of your estate before it is distributed to your heirs.

Len & Rosie