When Mom or Dad is in failing health, the adult children may think it is a good idea to put one or more of them on the parent's account and make it a joint account. The idea is that the child can deposit the parent's income, pay their bills and divide up the account among their siblings when Mom or Dad dies.
This can be a very dangerous thing to do, as a Minnesota Supreme Court case a few years showed.
In that case the daughter, Maureen, was put on Dad's certificates of deposit. The family thought Maureen was named on the accounts just to handle his income and expenses. Maureen contributed none of the money that went into the CDs.
However, when Dad died, much to the shock of her six brothers and sisters, Maureen claimed that the joint accounts were her personal property and not part of the estate.
The siblings sued Maureen to try to get the CDs put into the estate.
The siblings argued that Dad had always said that all the kids were to get equal shares of his estate. They introduced a copy of his will that also said the siblings were all to get similar portions of the estate.
A jury listened to the evidence and concluded that Dad wanted all of the siblings to share equally. The lower court concluded that Maureen should put all of the certificates of deposit back into the estate.
The case went up to the Minnesota Court of Appeals and ultimately to the state Supreme Court. The high court ruled that Dad never said or wrote anything that specifically said that the CDs belonged to all the children. The Court concluded that Joint Accounts all belonged to Maureen in spite of the jury's verdict.
The court's decision was criticized because many families do this as a matter of convenience and do not think the parent intends to benefit only one child.
The message this recent court decision is that families should meet and discuss arrangements for a parent's financial care before going to the bank or credit union to make these kinds of major changes to any accounts.
When considering an estate plan or care for an elderly loved one, it is always wise to discover alternative planning with an experienced estate planning attorney.