New Risks with Joint Accounts

December 19, 2008

Joint bank accounts created after a decedent makes a will can leave executors to face problems when it comes time to administer the estate. Often these accounts beg the question, "What was the decedent’s intention?" More specifically, did the decedent want to give the surviving party to the account ownership in the balance in the account or merely use of the account during life for convenience purposes? Under the Pennsylvania Multiple Parties Account Act, generally the surviving party or parties to the account own the balance after the decedent’s death. If there is clear and convincing evidence, however, the executor could show that the account was only a convenience account and that the balance should be turned over to the executor for deposit in the estate rather than be paid to the surviving party to the account. 

Now, even that predictability has ended. In a case known as In Re Estate of Amelia J. Piet, the Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled that if a joint account is created after a Will has been executed, the surviving owner does not receive the account if registration of the account is contrary to the disposition of assets under the Will. Suddenly, there is less predictability as to the disposition of multiple party accounts.   At the moment, the only solution is to document one’s intentions very carefully if a joint account is created after the execution of a Will. It’s generally advisable to review your Will or Estate Plan every few years to make sure your assets are properly distributed.