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Joint Property

Who inherits that joint property in Florida? It may not be as clear cut as you think. Does that bank account with $1 Million in it belong to you, or your mom’s estate? Does that deed of real estate create a survivorship feature or do you own only half and no more? When your brother’s or sister’s name was put on dad’s $2 Million brokerage account, did that create a joint tenancy with a right of survivorship, or was that just an estate convenience account?

Joint property has been lauded as a great “will substitute” that passes automatically and immediately by operation of law when the first “joint tenant” passes away. “Not so fast !” say many Florida bank account litigation attorneys. Why has this become such a specialized or limited field in the area of probate litigation?

Well, joint accounts and joint property, many times, are fact specific. What did mom or dad intend to do, or create, when your name was placed on a deed, a bank account or financial account? In Florida, we have so called “estate accounts” or “convenience accounts“. These accounts, even with your name on them, even with the words joint tenancy with a right of survivorship, may or may not mean that you inherit this money. The convenience account “goes” to the estate or probate. Why? Well, if your name was placed on the bank account, or the title, or the statement, was it for the convenience of the account owner, such as your father or mother? Did you use the account to pay your folks’ bills? Pay their expenses like the cable bill or real estate taxes or HOA fees for their Boca Raton condo? Or, on the other hand, was there a true intent to have you inherit the money when they passed? These are often fact specific cases, although the bank account forms, including the account opening documents, are very, very important. In some instances, your whole bank account lawsuit case about Florida joint property may hinge on what those bank account opening documents say– and not much more.

In Florida, there are many type of bank accounts which can create a survivorship feature. Sometimes they are referred to as joint accounts, JTROS, POD or pay on death, Totten Trusts, joint accounts with a right of survivorship. Other accounts have a beneficiary designation much like an IRA or retirement account. This can pit the estate executor, or personal representative, against the named payee, or the person whose name is on that bank account. Why? Well, the estate may want that bank account to pay expenses of probate administration and the last bills, debts and taxes of the person who passed away. And the beneficiaries of the probate may want that bank account to be distributed to them as an inheritance. But, what if you are on the bank account and not a beneficiary of the estate or Florida probate? That can put you at “odds” with the estate or probate. This can often lead to joint tenancy or joint property probate litigation involving POD accounts, joint property and rights of survivorship accounts. In Florida, there are both statutes and appeals court cases involving bank accounts and joint property. Your probate litigation attorney should be familiar with all of these when there is a dispute over joint property.

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