Preparation of wills, trusts, and the division of a family estate can be a difficult matter, which often leads to contention after a family member with property passes away. A recently decided case by the Rhode Island Supreme Court demonstrates the importance of having a professionally prepared and unambiguous estate plan in place to prevent confusion and legal battles after a loved one’s passing.
The primary issue in the recently decided case surrounds joint bank accounts that a woman opened with two of her daughters shortly before her death. The woman’s two other daughters, who are the plaintiffs in the action, challenged the probate court’s division of these accounts, which were each awarded to the joint account holder and not divided by the surviving children as remaining property in the decedent’s will.
According to the appellate ruling, the decedent went to the bank with one of her daughters with the intention of opening two accounts that would pass on to each of the joint account holder daughters upon the woman’s death. Under Rhode Island law, these accounts would need to be designated as joint accounts with a right of survivorship in order to pass to the joint account holder and not to other heirs through probate. For an unknown reason, the bank agent failed to designate these accounts as such.