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Rhode Island Supreme Court Affirms Superior Court Ruling in Estate Dispute

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.

After the woman died, her other children attempted to get the proceeds from the two bank accounts included in her probate case to be divided equally amongst her heirs. The woman had prepared a will that specifically awarded joint accounts with a right of survivorship to the joint account holder, however, the two recently opened accounts were not specifically designated with a right of survivorship. The superior court ruled that the accounts were intended to have a right of survivorship, and treated them as such, awarding them to the joint account holders, and the other children appealed.

On appeal, the Rhode Island Supreme Court rejected the other children’s arguments, noting the testimony from the bank representative that all of the joint accounts opened at that bank are supposed to have a right of survivorship, whether it is specifically designated or not. Additionally, the court looked to testimony from the attorney who assisted the decedent with preparing her will, and determined that it was her intention to keep the proceeds in the two accounts apart from her probate case. As a result of these findings, the appeals court affirmed the superior court decision.

Do You Have Questions or Issues About a Will or Estate Issue?

If you are looking to prepare a will, or have questions about possible assistance in a probate matter or other Rhode Island estate planning issue, using a skilled attorney from the start can save time and money in the long run. A qualified trust and estates attorney from Bilodeau Capalbo, LLC can help protect your interests. At Bilodeau Capalbo, we represent clients with many trusts and estates issues, including will preparation. Our experienced attorneys can help, regardless of the issues you are dealing with. To discuss your situation with no obligation, call 401-300-4055 to schedule your free consultation today.

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