13 December 2018
Foo Soon Yien
Y, a mother of five children, added one of her children X’s name into her sole named bank account, thus converting the account into a joint account (“the Joint Account”).
When Y added X’s name into her sole named bank account, the Authorisation Form contained this clause:
“In the event of death, the rule of survivorship shall apply to the Joint Account and the Bank shall be authorised to dispose of the balance in the Joint Account as the property of or to the order of the survivor(s)…”
Y subsequently passed away intestate. The main issue arising from this fact scenario was whether, upon the death of Y, the monies in the joint account belonged to the Estate of Y or to X by the right of survivorship.
Notably, in cases relating to how joint accounts should be dealt with after the death of a joint account holder, the surviving joint account holder and the joint administrators of the estate will likely give differing accounts on the matter. Due to the dispute of facts, such matters usually proceed for trial, during which the Court will determine the credibility of parties involved.
Arguments of the other beneficiaries of Estate of Y (collectively “Z”)
Z argued that:
Arguments of X
On the other hand, X argued that:
Factors Considered by the Court
Z who challenged X’s entitlement to the monies in the Joint Account had the burden of proving that Y did not intend for X to receive the money by the right of survivorship. In the case of a joint account especially with a survivorship clause, there is a presumption in favour of the survivor, X, that X is to take the whole of the contents of the Joint Account, in the absence of any contrary intention.
In deciding whether the monies of the Joint Account belonged to the Estate or X when Y died, the Court had to determine what the intention of the deceased Y was with respect to who should obtain the monies when she died. To do this, the Court considered several factors:
Behaviour and Personality of Y During her Lifetime:
If Y was not someone to leave things to chance or to do things without a purpose, but would instead act deliberately and consider important matters carefully before acting, the Court would give weight to this personality trait of Y. In such instances, the Court would be more likely to think that Y’s decision to convert her sole named account to a joint account with X was carefully considered. In the result, the Court may find that the monies in the Joint Account were clearly intended for X alone.
Y’s Control of the Joint Account During her Lifetime:
If Y did not relinquish control over the Joint Account and instead had control over it during her lifetime, the Court may be persuaded that Y did not intend for X to obtain the monies in the Joint Account.
Positive Intention on Y’s Part that the Monies in the Joint Account Belong to X:
Where there was a positive intention on the part of Y to give the monies in the Joint Account to X, the Court is likely to find that these monies were to belong to X alone. This positive intention can be supplemented by Y making considerable efforts, despite her deteriorating physical health, to set up the Joint Account.
X’s Support Towards Y During Y’s Lifetime:
X supporting Y for a long period of time when the latter was alive may support an intention of Y that X is entitled to the whole benefit of the Joint Account when Y dies.
Besides considering the presence of the specific factors above or lack thereof in deciding how the deceased Y had intended for the Joint Account to be dealt with after her death, the Court will also approach the issue by looking at the totality of the evidence to determine the:
Relationship Between the Parties:
The Court will consider the relationship and interactions between Y and Z as well as between X and Z. For instance, that the family was a traditional Chinese family in which the eldest son was favoured, even when he was rude to his parents, may be a relevant consideration. In addition, Z’s claim that they had continued to give Y the care and love she deserved as their mother may also be looked into by the Court. Yet another relevant factor may be that Z had thought X to be a troublemaker and were unhappy with X for making repeated enquiries about the status of administration of their also-deceased Father’s estate. Additionally, the siblings’ lack of strong family ties among themselves due to their upbringing is also relevant.
In considering the relationship between the parties, the Court will also rely on third party evidence of their observations of the relationship of the parties, beside relying on parties’ evidence alone.
Purpose and Usage of the Joint Account:
The Court will also consider the purpose and usage of the Joint Account in deciding whether the monies in the Joint Account belong to the Estate or X alone. Hence, a relevant consideration may be that the monies withdrawn from the Joint Account were used by X for her personal expenses, X and Y’s shared living expenses, or X and Y’s shared travelling expenses. Notably, although Y did not have to be present for X to withdraw the monies from the Joint Account, Y knew of and agreed to those withdrawals. That X could also sign cheques to make payments of utility bills for the home in which X and Y lived may also be of relevance.
Influence of X over Y in Various Aspects of Y’s Life:
The Court will also consider whether the deceased Y was under the influence of X in various aspects of her life. For instance, in this case, the Defendants’ allegation that X totally controlled Y and placed restraints on Y’s daily life, especially since Y was heavily dependent on X as the former did not have a car and driver in Singapore, may also be a matter for consideration.
Ultimately, even though the Court can rely on various factors and the totality of the evidence to decide whether the monies in the Joint Account should go to the surviving account holder only or the deceased’s estate, it is in a difficult position as it has to determine the intention of a person who is no longer alive.
Foo Soon Yien
Director, BR Law Corporation
Post date. Edit this to change the date post was posted. Does not show up on published site. 13/12/2018
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