The mere fact that someone held an account jointly with a decedent doesn’t necessarily mean he will avoid probate. While there is a statutory presumption that a right of survivorship is created when a party to a joint account dies, this presumption can be overcome with evidence showing that undue influence was used in the creation of the account, or that the account was solely for the convenience of the depositor. This was highlighted in a recent NJ appellate court case.
In the Matter of the Estate of DeFrank, decedent Aurerlia Defarank left behind approximately $1.4 million dollars in non-joint accounts, and had joint accounts held with her daughter Diane DiDonato (defendant) totaling $259,407. Aurerlia’s other daughter, Lorraine Rubaltelli, initially lost a summary judgment to grant her a share of the joint accounts. The judgment was based on the assumption that a right of survivorship was created when Aurerlia died.
Plaintiff appealed, arguing that decedent did not intend to create a right of survivorship on the joint accounts. She proved this by highlighting evidence of an established pattern of equal treatment to the two children. This ran contrary to the assumption that the decedent intended to give one daughter more than $250,000 more than the other. There was also evidence that the jointly-held funds were used solely for the needs of the decedent, to pay her expenses and to make equal gifts to her children and grandchildren. This would indicate that the joint account was set up for convenience rather than intent to create a right of survivorship.
The appellate court ruled in favor of Plaintiff, finding the circumstantial evidence reason enough to rebut the statutory presumption of survivorship.