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Wills, Estates, and Joint Accounts

I found out recently that I am on the Power of Attorney (POA) for my father jointly with my brother. The POA gives both of us equally most rights for dealing with my father's financial matters.

I have seen my dad's will, which splits things 50/50 between my brother and me, but I just found out that my father and brother have a joint checking account. My brother informed me that, the way it's set up, when my father dies, any remaining money in the account will revert to him and that I would not receive any.

Needless to say, I am upset. Does the joint account take precedence over the will which states a 50/50 split? Any information or suggestions would be much appreciated.

The answer to your question depends upon the law in the state where the bank is located and the deposit contract. Your brother has said the account held jointly. In most states, that would mean that the account becomes your brother's by operation of law at the moment that your father dies, and would not be part of your father's estate. However, it's possible (not likely, but possible) that the account is held in such a way as to allocate some portion to your dad's estate, and the remainder to your brother. Finally, it's also possible that the account in question is actually owned only by your dad, with your brother as an authorized signer.

Since you have a power of attorney from your dad, contact the bank holding the account and ask how it is set up. If it is a true joint account, with rights of survivorship, it will not be part of your dad's estate. We do urge you not to assume too much right now. It's entirely possible that your brother may use the account primarily for your dad's benefit and may obtain little benefit from the account when it becomes his, if it even exists then.

Published on 1/23/07