Challenging a Joint Account

Robert Ray

Background

When a person dies, his will determines who gets his property. If he doesn’t have a will, then the law of descent and distribution determines who gets his property. Pay on Death (POD) and joint accounts with right of survivorship are different.

Financial accounts like checking, savings, CD’s, brokerage accounts and retirements accounts are not probate assets and they are not part of the decedent’s property if they have a beneficiary designation. The beneficiary gets the account and they are not divided between the heirs. What happens if you think something is wrong and the decedent was taken advantage of and this type of account should go to probate and be divided among the heirs, not given to the beneficiary? This article will discuss that issue.

Challenging a joint account

Paperwork is not in order

To challenge a POD or joint account with right of survivorship is not easy but there are ways to do it. The first thing to learn is whether or not the paperwork at the financial institution is in order. Texas requires specific words and forms to create such an account and if the paperwork is not in order, the account goes to the estate and not the beneficiary. Where the paperwork is not in order, you can challenge the account based on a fiduciary relationship between the beneficiary and the decedent or challenge the account based on the intent of the decedent to share the account with other beneficiaries. You can ask the probate court to determine who gets the money in the accounts. But what happens if the paperwork is in order?

Paperwork is in order

If the paperwork is in order, you can’t challenge the account based on a fiduciary relationship between the beneficiary and the decedent or challenge the account based on the intent of the decedent to share the account with other beneficiaries. Because the paperwork is in order, other evidence is not admissible to change the account contract.

What can you do? The account can be challenged based on the decedent’s lack of mental capacity to contract at the time the beneficiary designation was changed or added. This is similar to contesting a will based on lack of testamentary capacity. Filing the proper paperwork in the probate court, obtaining admissible evidence and presenting it in the proper manner to the court at the proper time is what needs to be done to challenge these accounts.

Take away

If someone is claiming that they own a financial account because they were designated as a beneficiary, don’t take that on face value. Have your attorney look into the accounts and determine to whom they belong.

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The Author

Robert Ray

Robert Ray handles inheritance disputes of all kinds. He takes cases throughout Texas.
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