“Our Mom only added my sister to her accounts so she could help pay bills on time. The money was supposed to be divided equally amongst all of the children like the Last Will & Testament says!”
This is a common situation for many families after the passing of a parent. Mom (or Dad) added their child who lives closest to them to their checking account. They aren’t sure how to set up automatic payments and they are worried that in their advanced age, they may forget to mail the check to the electric company. So, they add their daughter to their account who lives across town. He can easily come over to go through their bills and send out payments. She may even help with other tasks around the house (cleaning, simple repairs, etc.). There are two other siblings who would be happy to help but they live states away.
Mom (or Dad) has a Last Will & Testament that clearly states all of her financial assets are to be equally divided between all three of her children. She has even told her children that she wants her estate to be divided equally between them. However, after mom’s passing, her daughter (who is listed jointly on her account) refuses to turn over any of the assets to her siblings. She claims she should get it all because she helped Mom more than her siblings did – all they did was occasionally visit.
What Recourse Do the Other Siblings Have to Recover the Money?
Recovering the money for it to be equally distributed is possible but depends on how the parent set up the account with the child. Was it a Joint Account or a Pay-On-Death Account? What is the difference?
A joint account is an account in which there are multiple owners of the account and all owners of the account have equal access and right to the assets in the account. Either party can deposit or withdraw the money at any time. If one party passes away, then the ownership of the account and all assets held within the account transfer to the other owner.
A Pay-On-Death account is an account in which the owner of the account adds a beneficiary to the account. The beneficiary is not listed as an owner and while the owner of the account lives, the beneficiary has no access or right to the account and its assets. Only upon the death of the owner does the account and its access pass to the listed beneficiary.
If the daughter was added to the Mom’s account for the sole purpose of helping pay bills then it is likely that a joint account was created. However, if Mom had multiple accounts, some may have been created as joint accounts while others were changed to pay-on-death accounts.
So, if your sibling won’t share…
Florida Statute 655.79 is about accounts with two or more names (e.g. joint accounts). The first part of the statute creates a legal presumption that a joint account is created with the intent for the account to transfer to the surviving accountholders. However, the statue does continue to say that this legal presumption can be overridden if there is proof of fraud, undue influence, or clear and convincing evidence of contrary intent.
In the case of a joint account between parent(s) and a child, if you can prove that your sibling was added for the sole purpose of convenience (help pay bills) and that it was not Mom’s intent for the account to be left to only that child – her intent was to leave the account to all of her children, then you are likely to recover the assets from a joint account. If your sibling used fraud or your parents old age to trick them into adding them onto the account, and you can provide evidence to such acts, the assets can also be recovered.
On the other hand, pay-on-death accounts do not hold the same presumption and are governed under Florida Statue 655.82. This statue clearly states that if the owner of the account passes, then the funds enclosed within will be directly transferred to the beneficiary listed on the account. This means that regardless of the intent your parent had for creating the account, the statue makes the presumption that a pay-on-death account is created for the purpose of providing a beneficiary for that account, like they would do for a life insurance policy. Although in most cases you may not have a recourse for recovering the assets for equal distribution, speak with your attorney at Merritt Law Office for all available options.