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Ownership of prior joint funds decided in probate litigation case

Ohio law establishes a probate court in each county; these courts are responsible for processing the estates of deceased persons. When a dispute arises between heirs of the estate, the probate court may be required to preside over a probate litigation matter. A wide spectrum of disputes can come up in the probate courts of this state and nationwide.

One state's supreme court recently decided an issue that is germane to Ohio law and is instructive as to how a similar matter would likely be handled here. An elderly couple had a joint checking account titled in both names with the right of survivorship. Only one of the owners was required, however, to make withdrawals.

The husband withdrew $100,000 and purchased a certificate of deposit for that amount in his name alone. The man died and the widow claimed the proceeds but so did the man's children from a prior marriage. The children were beneficiaries in the man's will. The issue decided by the Tennessee Supreme Court was whether the money belonged to the man's estate or whether it was still a part of the joint checking account. In the latter event, it would go to the widow automatically by virtue of the right of survivorship.

The court decided, based on case law from other states, that the jointly owned funds ceased to be owned by the couple together when the man withdrew it and purchased a certificate in his own name. This was deemed to be the commercially most practical solution that would not raise questions for third parties as to whether someone else had an unknown interest in the funds. The result of the decision was that the money was a part of the man's estate and passed according to the terms of his will. It is likely that the same reasoning would influence the Ohio courts in a probate litigation  matter with the same precise circumstances.

Source:, "Tennessee Supreme Court Clarifies Law Regarding Ownership Of Funds Withdrawn From A Joint Bank Account", Dec. 6, 2017

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