Detroit, MI asked in Estate Planning, Family Law, Elder Law and Probate for Ohio

Q: I am the co- owner of my mother's banking & checking account. Do I have to pay back my mother's estate ?

My sister placed my Mom into a nursing home in May of 2019 for dementia. And then she hired a guardian for my mom in June 2019. I have lived in my Mom's home from May 2019 until now. I have been the co-owner of my Mom's banking and checking account since April 5, 2015. And, I used the joint checking account to pay for my Mom's medical insurance & prescriptions, nursing home Bill's, Mom's real estate taxes & home insurance, and my bare necessities while my Mom was in nursing home. The guardian denied my access to the joint checking account in April of 2020, and that was the first time he told me I wasn't supposed to be using the joint checking account. My Mom died in July of 2020, and my sister hired my Mom's Guardian to be my Mom's Executor. The Executor said I need to pay back the money I used from the joint checking account. The bank managers told me that i became the legal co- owner of my Mom's checking account in April 2015. Do i have to pay back the money ?

2 Lawyer Answers
Aaron Epling
Aaron Epling
PREMIUM
Answered
  • Estate Planning Lawyer
  • Hilliard, OH
  • Licensed in Ohio

A: Interesting question. You certainly cannot be responsible for repaying any money that you spent on behalf of your mother for her expenses like medical expenses, nursing home bills, taxes, insurance, etc. One tricky question is whether you are liable to the estate for payments that you made to cover your "bare necessities." The executor may assert that you stole this money because your mother funded the bank account. But, you were a joint owner so you could argue that it was a gift to you or that it was in fact your money. I suspect that you would prevail in this aspect of the case but would need to do some research to confirm it.

Finally, I'm assuming the guardian removed any money that was in the account prior to her death, leaving a zero balance. But, if not, then you definitely get the remaining money.

C. Lawrence Huddleston III agrees with this answer

2 users found this answer helpful

C. Lawrence Huddleston III
C. Lawrence Huddleston III
Answered
  • Estate Planning Lawyer
  • Columbus, OH
  • Licensed in Ohio

A: We handle guardianship cases, but I do not hold myself out as a guardianship expert. If there is a clear-cut answer to your question, I don't know it. Like my colleague Mr. Epling, it would require some legal research.

I'm assuming the funds in the joint account all came from your mother. In your circumstances I would argue that (a) no one ever told you that you could not continue to use the account of which you were titled as a co-owner, and (b) if the Guardian didn't want you to have access to the money, he or she could have had the bank remove your name from the account. It seems to me there was negligence in the performance of the Guardian's duties and the Executor should be estopped from obtaining repayment from you. If the Executor is going to push this, I'm afraid you are going to need an expert probate and guardianship lawyer to defend you.

If any of the money in the account came from you, you have even a better claim.

1 user found this answer helpful

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