Decisions on the Difficult Issue of Joint Accounts
As many of the readers will know, joint accounts are a hotly debated topic in estate litigation. When an account is held jointly between two individuals, both hold an equal, undivided share. If one of the joint owners dies, the other is left with the entire interest in the account.
Previous decisions on the issue of joint accounts have varied but courts typically approached the issue by presuming that if the account was held jointly between a parent and a child, the parent intended to gift the money to the child (the presumption applied even if the child was an adult and financially independent). It was then up to the challenger to prove otherwise.
In Saylor and Pecore, the Supreme Court essentially reversed the presumption in the case of adult children.
The Supreme Court ruled that because it is very common for elderly parents to hold accounts jointly with adult children for banking purposes, the starting presumption should be in favour of including the funds in the parent’s estate. The adult child will then have the onus of proving that the parent intended to gift the funds to him or her.
In the case of minor children, the old presumption of a gift will still apply, based on the assumption that parents intend to support their minor children.
While the clarity of a final ruling on how to approach joint accounts will likely be welcomed, there may remain some uncertain as to the evidence necessary to rebut the presumption. And hence, more litigation to come.
Have a nice weekend,