Joint Accounts

Generally, a Personal Representative or Trustee can only control those assets which are titled to the Trust or made payable to the Trust. Under Florida Statutes, accounts that are held jointly with another person are presumed to belong to the surviving joint owner unless otherwise expressly provided. The presumption created by the statute may be overcome only by proof of fraud or undue influence or clear and convincing proof of a contrary intent.

A child is often added to an elderly parent’s bank account as a matter of convenience to assist with the paying of bills and other financial transactions. Sometimes, the parent intends for the child to keep the money when they die, sometimes, they expect the child to share the funds with the other beneficiaries. In cases where they do not intend for the child to keep the money, more often than not, they do. The longer they have access to the funds, the more they start to think of the money as their own. When they are told by the bank that the account is presumed to belong to them, they claim it as their own. This can obviously cause great issues among the beneficiaries and if the Personal Representative/Trustee has proof of a contrary intent, he or she must pursue legal action against the joint owner to recover the funds on behalf of the beneficiaries. If the Personal Representative/Trustee is unable to prove the intent of the decedent, the child will keep the funds and receive a larger share of the decedent’s estate than all other beneficiaries.

One way for a person to avoid this potential problem after their death is to expressly state their intent for all joint accounts to be distributed equally, to all beneficiaries at their death, in their Will or Trust document. They should also discuss their intent with the bank to determine the best way to establish the account in the manner they desire. Some institutions offer what is called a convenience account for all deposit accounts, other than a certificate of deposit. It is established by the owner as a single-party account, with one or more individuals designated as agents and their heirs, Estate or Trust as the beneficiary. The agent has the right to make deposits, withdraw funds or draw checks on the account, but they have no ownership or beneficiary rights.

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