Overcoming Presumptions in Joint Accounts

"It is not uncommon for a person of advanced age, or otherwise, to end up adding other people to their bank accounts. There are many reasons to do this—convenience, marriage, lack of mobility, busy schedules, to name a few. In most cases, the original account holder tends to be the person who contributes all of the funds. While all parties associated with the account are alive, their share of the account is generally determined based upon their contribution to the account, except in certain jurisdictions, such as community property states with joint accounts between spouses. But what happens when one of the account holders dies? Banking regulations tend to favor the presumption that the surviving parties named on the account are the new owners of the account.

In many jurisdictions this presumption of right of survivorship is also favored. As is often the case, the probate court does not even know about these assets, since joint accounts are so often used as a form of non- probate transfer. Nonetheless, if the personal representative or other interested persons have reason to believe that the decedent did not intend to leave all such assets to the joint account holder(s), the accounts become the courts’ problem one way or another.

- Excerpt from Overcoming Presumptions in Joint Accounts by Margaret Howell Up De Graff and Jill Renee Kroamer as featured in the National College of Probate Judges Spring Journal 2018.

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