As Florida lawyers, we tend to think that what’s in writing counts more than what’s said. It does, but what’s in writing doesn’t always control. Larkins v. Mendez is a case in point.
Sometimes a Florida resident adds a child to their bank account, which raises the question whether doing so is intended to be a gift or is it just for convenience.
“A convenience account is a bank account owned by one person, the principal, who authorizes a second person to make deposits and withdrawals on behalf of the account owner. While operating like a joint account, a convenience account is for the benefit of the principal and does not contain a right of survivorship in the agent. See § 655.80(1), Fla. Stat. (2021).”Larkins v. Mendez, 2023 WL 3485303 (Fla. 3rd DCA 2023
Just such an issue arose in the Larkins case. As stated by the Court:
“During administration of Decedent’s estate, a disagreement arose as to whether the BB&T bank account was an estate asset – specifically a convenience account – subject to distribution among the three brothers. While there was a place on the signature card for the account to be designated as a “convenience account,” the “convenience account” designation box was not selected.”Larkins v. Mendez, 2023 WL 3485303 (Fla. 3rd DCA 2023)
Because the written paperwork at the bank did not say it was a convenience account, the son who was the joint owner thought the account passed to him when his father died, and he spent the money.
However, the father’s estate sued the son claiming the bank account was just a convenience account, even though that box was not checked off on the bank’s paperwork, so the estate claimed the account belonged to the father’s estate and not to the son.
Both the trial court and the appellate court held in favor of the estate and found that the bank account was a convenience account so it belongs to the estate and not to the son. The courts looked beyond the bank paperwork and based their decision on the following evidence that the father intended it to be a convenience account even though he did not check that box:
-Testimony of the father’s other son;
-Testimony of the father’s neighbor who visited the father before he died and took detailed notes of their conversation; and
-Bank records showing how the joint owner son handled the bank account before and after his father died.
This case provides several lessons. First, Florida residents who want to add a child to their bank account should decide whether doing so is intended to be a gift or just a convenience account; second, they should state that intent in writing on the bank account paperwork; third, they should keep copies of the bank account paperwork with their wills, trusts, and other important estate plan documents; and fourth, they should state that intent in their last wills and testaments.
And, of course, if they intend it to be a convenience account, they should check the box and save everyone a lot of time and trouble.
-James W. Martin, St. Petersburg, Florida, Probate Estate Attorney, May 31, 2023
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