Joint Ownership of Bank Accounts

In related articles in this and recent issues,  we have discussed the effect of joint ownership of bank accounts.  In one article we noted the general rule that the right of survivorship (which causes the ownership of the entire account to pass to the surviving owner) that arises from a joint account overrides the provisions of a will, unless there is clear and convincing evidence that the decedent wanted the account to pass by the will.
However, there is a new judicial quirk added to this analysis.  In two relatively recent cases, In re: Estate of Piet and In re: Estate of Novosielski, the Pennsylvania Superior Court has stated that in the event that a joint account with right of survivorship is established after the execution of a valid will, the provisions of the will override the terms of the bank account.  This is a dramatic departure from previous law on this topic.
As an example under the previous interpretation of the law, if A and B owned an account, as joint tenants, and A died, B would succeed to the whole account irrespective of what A’s will had to say about the disposition of A’s property.  However, under the two new cases, if A & B are joint owners of an account, and A has made a will prior to the account’s being set up that gives the account to a party other than B, the pre-existing will provisions were viewed by the Superior Court as overriding the right of survivorship that otherwise would arise from joint ownership.  Oddly, the Piet Court indicated that if the will was made after the account was established, this would not defeat the right of survivorship implicit in the joint ownership of the account.
Again, this is a departure from existing law.  It also ignores the fact that jointly owned property in anything but bank accounts, is not affected by the terms of a will, whether that will is made before or after the property is made joint.
It should be noted that the holding in the first of these cases is now being reviewed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and it will be interesting to see whether this aberration from existing law will continue to survive the Supreme Court’s review.   We will keep you posted on further developments.


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