Question: My father died many years ago. My mom died last month and my sister says
that my mom’s bank account goes to her because she is the only listed
beneficiary on the account. My mom’s will says that everything should
be split three ways between the three kids. Who is right?
Answer: In short, your sister is correct.
The California Probate Code recognizes 3 types of bank accounts that will
avoid going through probate – a joint account, a “P.O.D (payable
on death) account”, and a Totten trust account (a specific type
of P.O.D. account). In the case of a joint account, the money would go
to the other joint owners on the account. In the other cases, there are
one or more beneficiaries listed on the account, to which the money will
go. Since you mention that your sister was the only listed beneficiary,
that indicates that your mom must have had a P.O.D. or Totten trust account.
Listing a person as a beneficiary on a bank account is a way of transferring
assets in the event of the account owner’s death without having
to go through probate. To receive the funds, the beneficiary only has
to present a copy of the death certificate and personal identification
authenticating that she is the person listed as the beneficiary on the account.
According to Section 5302 of the California Probate Code, any funds remaining
on a P.O.D account belong to the beneficiary as against the estate. Your
mom’s will only governs assets that do not otherwise have a designated
beneficiary. Thus her will property does not include the P.O.D bank account.
Your sister, as the sole beneficiary on the account, will be the only
recipient of those funds.
Assets Not Governed by a Decedent’s Will
There are several other assets that may have a designated beneficiary and
will not be governed by a decedent’s will. These commonly include
“transfer-on-death” accounts for securities, “transfer-on-death”
registration for vehicles, “transfer-on-death” deeds for real
estate, and proceeds from life insurance.
Either your mom opened up a specific P.O.D. account just for your sister
or she converted an existing checking or savings account into a P.O.D.
account. This conversion is very easy to do and simply entails signing
some forms provided by the bank.
If you feel strongly that the transfer of the bank account assets solely
to your sister would be against your mom’s wishes and have evidence
to the contrary, it is advisable to contact an attorney specializing in
estate planning. Although it may seem clear that your sister will receive
all the funds as the sole beneficiary, California probate law does allow
an interested party to show “clear and convincing evidence of a
different intent,” though that is often difficult to provide.
The good news is that you do not have to wade through this process alone.
Our firm is led by an experienced estate planning attorney who truly cares
about the individuals she represents. With Sargent Law Offices backing
your efforts, you can have confidence in whatever the future holds.
Get your questions answered today! Contact our firm for trusted legal counsel
throughout Alameda County and Castro Valley, California.