Sandler v. Jaffe, 2005 WL 2655765 (Fla. 4th DCA Oct. 19, 2005) Elderly parents often title bank accounts jointly with their children. Although extremely common, the problem with this type of arrangement is that the temptation to walk away with some of mom or dad’s funds can sometimes be irresistible. This case is a prime example of that risk. Facts: Concerned about possible incapacity issues arising out of her advanced age, mom titled all her bank accounts jointly with her daughter; daughter then transferred $84,000 from one of these joint accounts to an account titled in the name of her own husband and daughter (the family dynamics of this case are “interesting” to say the least). Mom finds out about transfer, sues daughter for return of funds, then dies while lawsuit is pending. Mom’s other child, son, carries on with suit as personal representative of mom’s estate. Key points of the case:

  • Daughter argued that 2005->Ch0655->Section%2078#0655.78″>F.S. § 655.78(1) absolved her from any liability. The 4th DCA rejected this argument, noting that this statute is intended to protect banks from getting drawn into disputes between title holders of an account. It in no way shields joint title holders from liability for their own actions.
  • Daughter argued that since she was a joint title-holder with right of survivorship, she was entitled to all of the funds at mom’s death anyway or, in the alternative, mom gifted all of these funds to her when she titled the bank accounts jointly. So no harm done. These arguments failed because mom actually found out about the transfers pre-death and sued for their return.

Lesson learned: Obviously mom was trying to plan for her incapacity; she certainly never intended to gift all of her estate to her daughter at the expense of her son. Joint bank accounts are a clumsy way of planning for incapacity and often run afoul of the “Trust, but verify” maxim. Revocable trusts are a much better alternative.