Interesting Estate Issue on Joint Accounts

NY and NJ divorce lawyer Paul Goldhamer, Esq. is a founding partner of Kantrowitz, Goldhamer & Graifman, with office locations in Bergen County, New Jersey and Rockland County, New York.  Among many other awards and citations Mr. Goldhamer has accrued over the years, honored Paul with its prestigious “Super Lawyer” designation in 2014. When not practicing law, Mr. Goldhamer keeps busy with speaking engagements, media outreach and charitable services.

From Paul Goldhamer, Esq.:

Recently a new client stuck in a family argument as to distribution of a parent’s assets asked me a question, to which I did not have a definitive answer. His current estate lawyer was ready to throw in the towel on the issue. His siblings’ estate lawyer had put forth the position that assets ($800,000. In this case) passed by a bank account with joint survivorship benefits to the brother we’re not properly excluded from the distribution by the will. They wanted ½ or $400,000. This was because the decedent signed the authorization on a different page, than the page which recited  it was a joint account. The argument was, because the signature was on the front of the card and not on the back of the card the decedent might not have realized what they signed.

This is an issue that really has to do with bank forms and the “intent of the decedent”. There are cases that find both ways. Intent of someone who is already dead is sometimes difficult to prove. Banks often require their forms and sometimes do it on the front and back of small cards or different sheets of paper. They do not thinking about the results, but rather what the bank requires from their point of view.

The court should decide this based on the “intent“ of the decedent. One way to assure the outcome is that when you open up a joint account, over your signature print the words “with right of survivorship to X”. In the alternative, initial the front of the card where it says that it’s a joint survivor account.

Arguments can evolve from almost any action. We at KGG are here to help you with your Estate, Will & Trust issues.