28 February 2018
Foo Soon Yien
When a person dies, a common issue is whether the monies in the deceased’s joint bank account should form part of the estate to be paid to the beneficiaries, or whether it should go to the surviving joint account holder.
Where such a situation comes before the Court, the Court will first determine whose money it is which remains in the joint bank account. Should the Court find that the money belonged to the deceased, the Court will then consider his/her intentions, prior to his/her death, concerning how the money is to be dealt with. The factors the court will examine are best illustrated in the following case study.
A mother passed away intestate, leaving behind five children, including X, Y and Z. X owned two joint bank accounts with their mother, amounting to more than $1 million in value. Y and Z as administrators claimed that these monies were part of their mother’s estate, while X insisted that they belonged to her by virtue of the right of survivorship. The bank froze the accounts pending a declaration from the Court showing who the money belonged to.
X first argued that both she and the deceased had the common intention to benefit each other with their money in the event either of them pre-deceased the other. X wanted to benefit the deceased as she was her only kin whom she greatly cherished and cared for. The deceased wanted to benefit X because of her maternal love for X, who had been dutifully taking care of her, and her concern that X, as her only unmarried child, would be left alone without anyone to take care of her. This mutual intention arising from their close relationship as mother and daughter was manifest in the conversion of their sole named bank accounts into joint accounts.
X also argued that after the accounts were converted into joint accounts, X was able to withdraw monies from the account on her own. The monies withdrawn were used to pay for X’s personal expenses, their shared living and travel expenses, as well as their housing bills. The deceased had full knowledge of these withdrawals, and was in agreement with how the monies were being used.
X submitted that in light of the deceased’s intention for X to be wholly entitled to the balance sums in the joint accounts, their loco parentis relationship, as well as X’s right of survivorship as the joint account holder, it is clear that the monies in the joint accounts must belong to her.
Ultimately, the most prudent thing for the testator to do is to make it clear from the beginning who he/she intends the beneficiary of the monies in a joint bank account to be. To avoid any ambiguity concerning the ownership of monies in the account, the testator should also get the co-owner of the joint bank account to acknowledge in writing that the testator owns the money in the account and therefore has the right to will the money away.
Taking such steps to ensure that the monies in a joint bank account are properly accounted for will greatly reduce the likelihood of a long and litigious contentious probate case from arising.
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. 1/3/2018
Subscribe to our Newsletter
Subscribe to our quarterly newsetter to keep up to date with a wealth of insights from the BR Law, BR Family Assets and BR Corporate services team.
The posts found in this Law Blog are not legal advice, nor are they given for the purpose of providing legal advice.
You should contact your lawyer for legal advice if you need legal assistance.