In Florida, one of the oldest forms of statutory trust protection is known as a Payable-on-Death deposit account, or “POD” account. A POD account allows for money remaining in a bank account when the account owner dies to pass directly to the beneficiary named by the account owner outside of probate. The money remaining in the account will then be paid to the beneficiary named by the account owner and will pass to such beneficiary even if the account owner had a will or a revocable living trust. These “trusts” are different from a joint deposit account, in which ownership is shared by two or more people, and is designated with rights of survivorship. This means that when one account owner dies, the surviving owners will simply continue to own the account. Although there are numerous differences between the two types of accounts, such as predeceasing the account owner, gifting problems, creditor options, disinheriting other beneficiaries, and the distribution of equal shares, a recent case decided by the First District Court of Appeal of Florida (“1st DCA”) in Brown v. Brown, 2014 Fla. App. LEXIS 14117 (Fla. 1st DCA 2014) illustrates the distinctions between the two types of accounts as it relates to the Florida statutory evidence presumption.
A final order by a lower circuit court upon the recommendation of the magistrate directed that certain joint and POD deposit accounts were to be included in the estate of Elizabeth Brown (“Brown”) and the funds equally distributed among her children, according to her last will and testament. Brown, who died in 2007, executed a will which provided that all other property not specifically devised were to be distributed equally among her six children. The curator of Brown’s estate, who was also a child of Brown filed a complaint against the appellant, another adult child of Brown, seeking a declaratory judgment that Brown’s deposit accounts were assets of the estate to be transferred in probate and divided equally. The accounts at issue were two joint deposit accounts held by Brown and the appellant, and three POD accounts naming the appellant as sole beneficiary.
In an evidentiary hearing on the complaint, the testimony concerned whether, despite the nature of the accounts, Brown actually intended that all her children share the funds equally after her death. The court concluded that pursuant to Fla. Stat. § 655.79 (2012), which governed the disposition of all the accounts, created a presumption that title to a joint deposit account vest in the surviving owner and that the presumption may only be overcome with clear and convincing proof of contrary intent. Consequently and according to the evidence in Brown’s will, the magistrate recommended, and the circuit court agreed, that all funds from all accounts be deposited into the estate account. There was clear and convincing evidence that Brown’s intent was for her “cash accounts,” including her certificates of deposit, to first be used to pay expenses associated with her death and the balance to be divided equally among her six children.
On appeal, the 1st DCA held that Fla. Stat. § 655.79 only applies to joint deposit accounts, and not to POD accounts. The statute provides that “unless otherwise provided . . . a deposit account in the names of two or more persons shall be presumed to have been intended by such persons to provide that, upon the death of any of them, all rights, title and account . . . vest in the surviving person . . . [which] may be overcome only by proof of fraud or undue influence or clear and convincing proof of contrary intent.”
Therefore, because none of the three POD accounts at issue are joint deposit accounts, the lower court ruling erred in applying the statutory presumption, and more importantly, the mechanism for overcoming the presumption to the POD accounts. The 1st DCA explicitly stated that Fla. Stat. § 655.82 (2012) governs POD accounts, and regarding ownership of the funds, the statute provides that on the death of the sole party or owner of the account, sums on deposit belong to the surviving beneficiary. No rebuttable presumption applies. Therefore, the sums of money in the POD accounts were to be solely owned by the appellant and beneficiary, and not divided among the rest of the children.
The 1st DCA did however agree with the lower court as their decision related to the joint deposit accounts, and reasoned that there was substantial evidence supporting the finding that the Appellee overcame the statutory presumption as to Brown’s intended disposition of the two joint deposit accounts denoting appellant as a co-owner. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the final order regarding the two joint accounts and placed the money into the estate, and reversed the order as to disposition of the three POD accounts, which would be paid directly to the appellant and not shared equally by all six children.
Trust law and trust protection is a complex endeavor, and should be executed by a competent attorney.
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