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Should I be Suspicious About Joint and Pay-on-Death Accounts in Probate?

Posted in Breach of Fiduciary, Probate, Probate Litigation, Wills & Estates. Tuesday, Jul 11th, 2017

Most people are generally aware of how wills work under Ohio law: A person appoints an executor to administer assets upon death, and designates certain beneficiaries to receive real and personal property included in the estate. If someone dies without a will, estate assets are distributed to heirs according to the state laws of intestacy. The primary question that may not occur to you – but which probate litigation attorneys in Ohio must address quite often – is: What assets are included in the estate?

The answer may come as a surprise, especially for a deceased person’s loved ones who find out that certain bank accounts are not part of the estate. Pay-on-death and joint bank accounts fall in this category, because they pass to an individual by operation of law. Here’s what you need to know about these types of accounts and why you should be suspicious if changes are made under questionable circumstances.

Joint Accounts

When a bank or investment account is held in the names of two or more individuals jointly, they all have equal right to use the proceeds. To expend funds, it’s not necessary to get approval from any other owner on the account. If one account holder dies, the remaining owners continue to hold an interest in a joint account with right of survivorship.

Therefore, in the context of a decedent’s estate, a joint account is not part of the probate process: It passes to the survivors automatically. The effect of a joint account is to disinherit all beneficiaries and heirs that are not also joint owners.

Pay-on-Death Accounts

As the name suggests, a pay-on-death (POD) account is one that distributes the proceeds to a designated beneficiary at the death of the primary owner. All the beneficiary needs to do is present a death certificate and the bank will issue a check for the full amount in the account. Like a joint account, a POD account is not part of the probate process.

Indications of Misconduct

If the decedent was mentally incapacitated or not of sound mind when handling accounts, the following types of conduct should raise red flags:

  • Setting up a new joint account with a caretaker or family member, or adding a person to an existing account;
  • Unexplained, high expenditures from a joint account by a caretaker or family member;
  • Changes to beneficiaries on POD accounts, giving a caretaker or family member the entire account proceeds upon death.

Contact an Ohio Probate Litigation Attorney About Your Options

If you have suspicions about changes made to pay-on-death or joint accounts prior to a loved one’s death, time is of the essence in taking action. You have legal rights and there are options available to address another person’s misconduct in handling a decedent’s assets before death, but it’s important to have an experienced lawyer on your side. The probate litigation attorneys at the Law Office of Mike Gertner have represented the interests of many clients in disputing improper account changes, and they can help you, too. Please call our Columbus office today at 614-463-9393 or 877-772-1011 with questions or to schedule a free consultation.