– Est. –

When Joint Bank Accounts Fail

Taufen v. Estate of Kirpes, 155 Wash App 598, 230 P2d 199 (2010)

Decedent’s estate included a joint checking account which named Decedent and Mr. Yochum as joint owners. Although Decedent made no mention of survivorship when she opened the account, the banker unilaterally elected to add a right of survivorship without discussing the matter with Decedent. Upon Decedent’s death, Mr. Yochum transferred the balance of the account to the estate after he was informed that the money in the joint account belonged solely to Decedent’s estate. Thereafter, he sued the estate for the account proceeds.

In recognizing that the essential issue before the court was whether Decedent intended to create the account with a right of survivorship, the court first acknowledged that there is a rebuttable statutory presumption that funds belonging to a deceased depositor which remain in a joint account with a right of survivorship belong to the surviving depositor unless there is clear and convincing evidence of a contrary intent. When the presumption is overcome, however, it ceases to exist and cannot be further considered.

The court determined that, although the signed account card created a rebuttable presumption of intent to create a right of survivorship, the estate met its burden of production by providing evidence that: 1) Decedent only instructed the banker that she wanted to open up a joint account, 2) Decedent never instructed the banker that there was to be a right of survivorship, 3) It was the banker who elected to create a joint account with a right of survivorship, and 4) the designation of a right to survivorship was never discussed with Decedent. Thus, the statutory presumption of intent disappeared, and judgment was entered in favor of the estate.

LESSON: The presumption of a joint bank account may be overcome with the right evidence.