Tax and Financial Planning

    Who Owns the Balance on the Joint Account?

    Sometimes, what seem to be quite simple questions have to be decided in court. In a recent case, the issue was who owned the money in a joint bank account when one of the account holders died.

    Simple question or not, it was argued all the way to the Court of Appeal.

    The account in point was with the First Caribbean International Bank (Bahamas) Limited and contained some $190,000. It was in the name of the man who died and a friend. The money in the account was almost entirely put there by the deceased man. The question that arose was whether the balance in the account was part of the deceased's estate or whether it had passed to his friend by survivorship. Other beneficiaries argued that because the man had contributed virtually the whole sum, his friend's legal interest in it was as a trustee for his estate.

    When the account was set up, the men had signed the bank's standard joint account application form. This contained a clause which specifically said that '…all money which is now or may later be credited to the Account…is our joint property with the right of survivorship. That means that if one of us dies, all money in the Account automatically becomes the property of the other account holder(s).'

    That may appear to be straightforward, but the legal issues were complex enough for two of the five Court of Appeal judges to dissent from the majority decision that 'the two holders of a joint account have, by an agreement with the bank to which they were both parties, expressly set out above their signature a declaration as to the beneficial interests in that joint account which…provides for any balance on the account to be the beneficial property of the survivor, upon the death of the other account holder, regardless who contributed the money to the credit of the account before that date'.

    The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.

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