Belanger v. Salvation Army, 2009 WL 223884 (11th Cir.(Fla.) Feb 02, 2009) [Attorney Interview]

The Salvation Army has been enmeshed in litigation since 2007 over approximately $105,000 it received from a pay-on-death account [click here]. At issue was whether a corporation, such as the Salvation Army, could be the beneficiary of a pay-on-death bank account under Florida law. According to the trial court and now the 11th Circuit, the answer is "yes." The following excerpt from the 11th Circuit opinion does a good job of framing the issue and explaining the court’s statutory-construction ruling:

Richard Jason Belanger, as son and personal representative of the Estate of Richard Jose Belanger, deceased, brought this diversity action against The Salvation Army to recover funds which The Salvation Army had obtained from a pay-on-death bank account established in the name of “Richard J. Belanger, In Trust For The Salvation Army.” The Estate argues that The Salvation Army, a corporation, cannot be considered a “surviving beneficiary” under the pay-on-death account provisions of section 655.82, Florida Statutes. The district court granted a motion to dismiss in favor of The Salvation Army, finding that a corporation can be a beneficiary of a pay-on-death bank account under Florida law. The Estate appeals.

This case presents an issue of first impression: whether a corporation qualifies as a “person” permitted to be a lawful beneficiary of a pay-on-death account under section 655.82 of the Florida Statutes. We, therefore, must form a reasoned opinion as to how this statute should be interpreted. We determine that the plain language of section 655.82 permits a corporation to be a beneficiary of a pay-on-death account because the definition of the term “person” in section 1.01(3) of the Florida Statutes includes corporations. Accordingly, for the reasons set forth in greater detail below, we affirm.