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WA-Probate > Probate-Litigation > Undoing Joint Tenancy Rights of Survivorship After Death

 

O.  "Undoing" Joint Tenancy Rights of Survivorship After Death

  1. The Typical Situation

  2. Decedent's Intent in Creating the Joint Tenancy

  3. Decedent's Lack of Capacity While Creating the JTWROS Account

  4. Signatory's Wrongful Actions During Creation of the JTWROS Account

  5. Signatory's Ownership of Funds During Depositor's Life

 

1.  The Typical Situation   

Query: How may the joint tenancy's right of survivorship be "undone" after their parent's death, resulting in the asset falling back into the parent's probate estate and being distributed either under the parent's Will to its beneficiaries or by intestate succession (ie, inheritance) to the parent's heirs --- presumably, in either case, to all the parent's children in equal shares?

 

 

2.  Decedent's Intent in Creating the Joint Tenancy   

 

Consider the following hypothetical situation:

As discussed in Special Case #1: Joint Tenancy Bank Accounts, on the page Joint Tenancies, of the website section Washington Probate Avoidance, upon the depositor-Decedent's death, then, with one specific exception, the account's funds belong to the signatory.

 

Exception:  If clear and convincing evidence shows that the depositor-Decedent intended otherwise when the account was created.  RCW 30.22.100(3)  [There are other, general exceptions, ignored here, as any transfer of property is susceptible to the same attack as the making of a Will, ie, the grounds for bringing a Will Contest, eg, lack of capacity, undue influence, fraud, duress, etc.]

 

Consequently:

In the typical case, when he/she created the account, the depositor-Decedent was in declining health, thinking (if at all) moment to moment and not about the future, such as what would happen to the account at his/her death --- his/her immediate needs and motivation were to find someone available now to manage his/her financial affairs and pay his/her bills during his/her waning days.

 

Washington Cases "Undoing" or Potentially Undoing the Right of Survivorship Due to Decedent's Alternative Intent:

Well, I signed two cards and he had to sign them and I suppose that was there so that if ever I wanted money to help him, I could get it."  At pages 328-29.

The Court then considered whether Decedent intended to make a gift to the signatory:

In order to show a gift, there must be delivery ..., and the donee must acquire dominion and control over the account ...; the right to draw checks on the account is not sufficient to show a gift.  [Citations omitted.]  Additionally, there must be donative intent.  [Citation omitted.]  The trial court made no findings as whether [Decedent] intended to make a gift of the accounts to [the signatory].  The burden is on ... the party asserting the existence of a gift to show the transfer was a gift by "clear, convincing, strong, and satisfactory" evidence.  [Citation omitted.]  At page 329.

The Court remanded the case to the trial court "for the purpose of making a factual finding as to the Decedent's intent when he created the accounts with the signatory as a joint tenant, ... whether he intended it to be with right of survivorship, a gift, or if her name was added merely as a convenience."  At pages 329-30.

No pertinent Washington cases have been found confirming the Right of Survivorship.

 

 

3.  Decedent's Lack of Capacity While Creating the JTWROS Account   

 

As in the case of challenging the making of a Will, a JTWROS bank account may be challenged on the basis that Decedent lacked capacity to make it.  No pertinent Washington cases have been found in which a Court has addressed solely the issue of a Decedent's lack of capacity while creating a JTWROS account.

 

 

4.  Signatory's Wrongful Actions During Creation of the JTWROS Account   

 

Also as in the case of challenging the making of a Will, a JTWROS account may be challenged on the basis that during its creation, the signatory acted fraudulently or by duress or undue influence.  See: Based on "Lack of a Testator," in the Questions about a Will section of WASHINGTON PROBATE LITIGATION.

 

Washington Cases "Undoing" or Potentially Undoing the Right of Survivorship Due to the Signatory's Undue Influence:

1.  The beneficiary occupied a fiduciary or confidential relation to the Testator;

2.  The beneficiary actively participated in the preparation or procurement of the will; and

3.  The beneficiary received an usually or unnaturally large part of the estate.

 

Added to these factors may be other considerations, such as:

4.  The age or condition of health and mental vigor of the Testator;

5.  The nature or degree of relationship between the Testator and the beneficiary;

6.  The opportunity for exerting an undue influence, and

7.  The naturalness or unnaturalness of the will.

 

And that proof of undue influence must be by clear, cogent, and convincing evidence.

The Court then applied these considerations to the facts at hand:

1.  The beneficiary had occupied a fiduciary or confidential relation to the Testator;

2.  The beneficiary had actively participated in the change of ownership of the account; and

3.  The beneficiary had received an usually large part of the estate.

 

Added to these considerations were these facts:

4.  The Decedent's age and physical and mental condition were such that she was very susceptible to undue influence;

5.  The beneficiary was in a confidential relationship with the Decedent;

6.  The Decedent had trusted and relied upon the beneficiary; and

7.  It was unnecessary for the beneficiary to be a joint tenant, as the Decedent could have signed her checks by herself..

The Court concluded, "[T]here is sufficient evidence, by the clear, cogent, and convincing standard, to overcome the statutory presumption that [Decedent] intended to transform her bank accounts into joint tenancy with [the signatory]."  At page 470.  See also: Estate of Randmel v. Pounds, 38 Wn. App. 401 (1984).

 

5.  Signatory's Ownership of Funds During Depositor's Life   

 

During the life of a depositor:

Caution: Right of withdrawal is not the same as right of ownership.  While the depositor is alive:

See also RCW 11.86.011, which provides, at least for purposes of disclaimers, "A joint tenancy interest of a deceased joint tenant shall be deemed to be transferred at the death of the joint tenant rather than at the creation of the joint tenancy."

 

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