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Published Opinion Clarifies Joint Account Rights

This case was handled by our firm:  Chalgian and Tripp.  We represented the Appellant at trial an in the Court of Appeals.

This case clarifies a heretofore confusing issue involving joint accounts and the rights of joint account owners pre-death.

Most importantly, this case is published.

While many cases address the issue of survivorship rights in joint accounts, this case deals with the question of what happens when one joint account owner removes assets from a joint account before the other account owner dies.

Our client made his accounts joint with a person with whom he had a long relationship, but to whom he was not married. He got sick.  When it was evident that his condition was rapidly depleting his savings, the non-client co-owner went to the bank and removed essentially all the money she could get.

At trial, the non-client co-owner argued that she had the same rights to the money as our client, and therefore that she did nothing wrong by defunding these accounts.  This was her position even though evidence at trial showed that she contributed nothing to the accounts, and that any significant withdrawals from the account had to be made with the approval of our client.

The trial judge accepted their argument, and ruled in favor of the non-client owner largely based on the application of cases related to survivorship rights in joint accounts. We appealed.

The appellate court reverses and remands to the trial court, holding that our client’s claims of conversion were wrongly dismissed, and also that our client’s claims of breach of fiduciary duty and constructive trust may likewise be revived. On remand, the trial court is tasked with determining damages for the conversion.

Click here to read: In Re Estate of Robert G. Lewis.

Thanks to Phil Harter of our office for his excellent research on the issue, and for taking the lead with the appellate brief.