Seattle, WA asked in Estate Planning and Probate for Minnesota

Q: What can my mom do about money she is entitled to in my grandma’s will when my aunt had a joint account with my grandma?

My grandmother passed away last year. Grandpa already passed years ago. They had 4 children, my mother being the third child. In my grandma’s will, she had stipulated that each of her kids receive 25% of the money she had left behind. However, before she had passed, she had opened a joint account with her eldest child, my aunt. So now my aunt has control of all the funds and is unwilling to let my mom have any of that. What can my mom do?

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1 Lawyer Answer
Ben F Meek III
Ben F Meek III
  • Estate Planning Lawyer
  • Oklahoma City, OK

A: Unfortunately, the money in the joint account likely ceased to belong to your grandmother when she died leaving a surviving joint owner on the account. However, if your grandmother lacked the mental capacity to understand what she was doing in setting up that account or in transferring funds into it, you might have legal grounds to require the aunt to pay those funds back to your grandmother's estate. The funds would then be distributed to your grandmother's heirs (if she had no will) or to her devisees (if she did).

Also, depending on state law where the joint account was set up (or possibly the bank's joint account agreement), the joint account may not include a right of survivorship -- the right that a "joint tenant" has that gives them ownership of the joint property when the other joint owner dies. If grandmother, in setting up that account, added the aunt's name to the account merely as an accommodation -- to write checks for grandmother's bills, etc. -- but did not intend to convey survivorship to your aunt, those funds may legally belong to grandmother's estate.

Talk to an experienced probate lawyer in your state to discuss the specifics of your situation and find out your rights and remedies. Best wishes.

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