Trusts and Estates

Placencia v. Strazicich

Cite as G055631
Filed November 26, 2019, Fourth District

By Daniel C. Kim
Weintraub Tobin Chediak Coleman Grodin Law Corporation

Headnote: Joint Accounts – Right of Survivorship

Summary: A decedent’s will can contain clear and convincing evidence to defeat the presumption of a right of survivorship to a joint tenancy account.

In 1985, Ralph Placencia opened a joint account with his daughter, Lisa, with a right of survivorship. Ralph died in December 2009. Prior to his death, Ralph left clear statements in his will that he did not want Lisa to succeed to this account, but wanted the proceeds of the account to go to his trust, for the benefit of all of his three daughters. The trial court determined Ralph’s intent should prevail and ordered Lisa to account for the funds to Ralph’s trust. Lisa appealed.

Held: Affirmed in part and reversed in part.  The probate code sets forth explicit distinctions between the actual ownership of the beneficial interests in an account versus the express terms of an account. This distinction allows a court to honor the clear intent of the person who established the account while still offering protection to financial institutions who are obligated to follow the terms of an account. Thus, the financial institution here was correct to pay the funds to Lisa based on the terms of the account, but the beneficial owner of those funds was Ralph’s estate based on the statements in his will, which the court deemed to be clear and convincing evidence of intent. The appellate court reversed on other grounds, finding error where the funds had been improperly directed to the trust, thereby circumventing the requisite probate proceeding, and also remanding for further assessment of attorneys’ fees.

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