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New York Joint Bank Accounts Can Be Challenged By a Decedent’s Estate

The process of administering an estate can be very complex. Estate Lawyers are familiar with the many issues and obligations that an Executor or Administrator may need to consider.  As discussed in numerous posts in the New York Probate Lawyer Blog, an estate fiduciary has the obligation to find and collect all of the estate assets. Estates, Powers and Trusts Law Section 11-1.1 entitled “Fiduciary powers” sets forth the tasks that a fiduciary can perform including collecting and investing assets.

Sometimes it is not easy to determine and access property that is owned by a decedent. There are many cases where a person prepares a Last Will but places assets into joint ownership. Such joint ownership property is not controlled by the Will provisions.  The joint assets are transferred to the surviving joint owner upon the decedent’s death notwithstanding contrary provisions in a Last Will.  Generally, only assets that are titled in the decedent’s name alone end up being controlled by a Will.  It is not uncommon to find out after a decedent dies that shortly before death, many assets were transferred to joint accounts and, therefore, pass to owners outside of the controlling Will provisions.These situations typically result in Estate Litigation in the Surrogate’s Court.  The Executor or Administrator can bring a discovery proceeding under Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act 2103 and 2104 to seek the return of these joint assets to the estate.  The estate’s grounds for claiming a return of assets may be based on the view that the joint account was only created as a matter of convenience and was not intended to give the other joint owner survivorship rights.  Other grounds that may be asserted to defeat a joint ownership are that the joint ownership was the result of undue influence or the decedent lacked capacity to understand the nature of the transaction that created the ownership.

A recent case decided by Staten Island Surrogate Robert Gigante on September 14, 2016 entitled Matter of Asch provides an example of the complexities of these matters.  In Asch, the decedent left a Will that distributed her estate equally between her two daughters.  However, prior to death, the decedent had created a number of joint accounts on which she named only one of the daughters.  Due to this circumstance, the other daughter, who was a co-executor of the estate, commenced a turn over proceeding to recover the joint assets for the estate.

After reviewing the extensive medical evidence and other evidentiary factors, the Court concluded that there were issues of fact that required further Court proceedings to determine the validity of the joint accounts.

I have represented many estates and beneficiaries regarding issues concerning joint accounts and estate administration. Call me now for a free discussion regarding your estate case.

New York Probate Attorney Jules Martin Haas has helped many clients over the past 30 years resolve issues relating to estate planning, estate accounting and estate settlement in Manhattan and Queens and throughout New York. If you or someone you know has any questions regarding these matters, please contact me at (212) 355-2575 for an initial consultation.

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