Q: I'm looking for case law in Maryland that shows a Will take precedence over a beneficiary on a bank account?
If a person dies and names a beneficiary on a bank account that is different than what is in the Will, does the Will take precedence or do you have to take that person to court if they don't hand over those funds as it is laid out in the Will?
A: The beneficiary designation on the bank account controls, regardless of what the will says. The will only controls assets in the estate. By definition, any asset such as a financial account that is governed by a contractual agreement between the decedent and the financial institution, that by its terms directs the account balance to a named beneficiary under the terms of that contract, is not an asset of the estate, because the account balance is immediately the property of the beneficiary upon the decedent's death. Therefore, although the will may identify the bank account as an asset to be distributed to someone else, the bank account is no longer an asset of the estate, so the will cannot direct it distribution. The same thing would happen with real estate, had the decedent added another person's name to the deed as joint tenant with right of survival. Upon the death of the decedent, the joint owner immediatly becoles the sole owner of the real estate. It would not matter that the decedent's will may direct the property to others. The property would never become an asset of the estate on accont of the way it was titled. Another example is where the decedent lists jewelry, paintings or cars in their will to be distribted to specific persons, but before they die, the decedent sells or gives those items to others. The named beneficiaries would have no recourse to recover those items from the persons who obtained them.
The Will only controls assets the deceased person died owning.
With a beneficiary or payable on death designation, the title is transferred automatically to the beneficiary when the original owner dies (though practically the beneficiary may need to show the death certificate to confirm this). So the asset never becomes a part of the probate estate.
In dealing with many estates over the years I have never seen a financial institution refuse to turn over a beneficiary account to a beneficiary properly designated by the original owner so the odds of someone needing to take the bank "to court" seem very low -- unless of course other issues like fraud exists (or undue influence to put someone's name on the account). A word of caution is that sometimes someone holding a power of attorney may attempt to change beneficiaries without authority to do so -- that kind of transfer may well be challenged. But so long as the original owner is competent and acting of their own volition, their beneficiary designation should be honored.
While not legal advice I hope that this general information helps.
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