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How to Title Bank Accounts for Estates

My 90-year-old mother has a living trust, with my brother and myself as heirs. A few years ago her attorney recommended she set up two different bank accounts – one in the name of my mom and my brother, one in the name of myself and my mom – that we could use to pay expenses in an emergency, should she become incapacitated. My brother is married, and we are wondering this: If he should die before my mother, does my sister-in-law inherit half of my mother’s bank account as part of my brother’s estate?

When two or more people own a bank account, the manner in which they hold title can have legal significance.  If they hold title as “tenants in common”, when one owner dies, his or her share passes pursuant to his or her will (or, the laws of intestate succession if he or she did not have a will).  This usually requires a probate proceeding.  At the end of probate, probate the court will issue an order stating that the beneficiary of the will (or intestate heir) succeeds to the deceased owner’s interest in the account.  This order is recorded thereby “removing” his or her name from the title.

If the account was held by the owners as “joint tenants” or “joint tenants with rights of survivorship”, when one owner dies, the other owner or owners automatically succeed to the deceased owner’s interest in the account by operation of law.  A probate proceeding is not required.

Thus, the place to start is to determine how the account with your mother and your brother was held.  If it was held as “tenants in common” your sister-in-law may have a claim to the money.  If it was held as joint tenancy, then upon your brother’s death, your mother becomes the sole owner of the account, notwithstanding the terms of your brother’s will.

This news blog is brought to you by Michael B. Furman, San Diego Estate Planning Attorney.
California Estate Planning Attorney, Michael B. Furman has extensive experience providing Estate Planning to clients throughout San Diego and Southern California.  If you need assistance or know of someone that needs Estate Planning please call Michael B. Furman for a free consultation at: (858) 592-9493.

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