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Joint Tenancy Account May Be Different In Different States

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JUNE 16, 2003 VOLUME 10, NUMBER 50

In January 2002, Family Services, Inc. (FSI), of Barron County Wisconsin was appointed to serve as guardian of the estate of Emma W. (Arizona and some other states use “conservator of the estate” to mean the same thing.) At that time, Emma W. owned her home, had a bank account in her name, and owned a little more than $100,000 worth of certificates of deposit (CDs) in joint tenancy with her sons Paul and Gary. Six months later Emma W. still owned her home but no CDs; Paul and Gary, through their lawyer, let FSI know that they had cashed in the CDs.

FSI sought a court order to recover the proceeds from the CDs, arguing that the appointment of a guardian precluded Paul and Gary from removing their mother’s funds from the accounts. The trial court ruled that as joint owners of the CDs Paul and Gary had full authority to withdraw the funds. The Wisconsin District Court of Appeals has now agreed. In the Matter of the Guardianship of Emma W., May 28, 2003.

The appellate court was unmoved by FSI’s public policy argument that preservation of a ward’s estate is more important than a joint owner’s ability to withdraw funds. The Court relied on the plain language of a Wisconsin statute which provides that “unless there is clear and convincing evidence of a different intent … a joint account belongs, during the lifetime of all parties, to the parties without regard to the proportion of their respective contributions to the sums on deposit and without regard to the signatures required for payment. The application of any sum withdrawn from a joint account by a party thereto shall not be subject to inquiry by any person….”

Arizona has no statute like Wisconsin’s regarding joint bank account ownership. As we have previously noted in Elder Law Issues (see our February 11, 2002, issue–“Creditor Files Claim Against Parent’s Joint Tenancy Account“–as an example), Arizona follows the common-law principle that joint accounts are owned in proportionate to the contribution of those named on the account title.

Having jointly titled accounts can be convenient in the event of incapacity, since the joint owner has easy access to those funds to pay bills. And a joint account avoids probate for the surviving owner.

Remember, however, that joint tenants can expose all account assets to their creditors. Furthermore, the bank may have no idea that your joint tenant actually contributed less than $100 (or nothing) to your joint account, and the bank will likely comply with a request for withdrawal of all funds by any owner. You should be aware of the danger inherent in naming joint owners on any financial account.

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Robert B. Fleming


Robert Fleming is a Fellow of both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been certified as a Specialist in Estate and Trust Law by the State Bar of Arizona‘s Board of Legal Specialization, and he is also a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Robert has a long history of involvement in local, state and national organizations. He is most proud of his instrumental involvement in the Special Needs Alliance, the premier national organization for lawyers dealing with special needs trusts and planning.

Robert has two adult children, two young grandchildren and a wife of over fifty years. He is devoted to all of them. He is also very fond of Rosalind Franklin (his office companion corgi), and his homebound cat Muninn. He just likes people, their pets and their stories.

Elizabeth N.R. Friman


Elizabeth Noble Rollings Friman is a principal and licensed fiduciary at Fleming & Curti, PLC. Elizabeth enjoys estate planning and helping families navigate trust and probate administrations. She is passionate about the fiduciary work that she performs as a trustee, personal representative, guardian, and conservator. Elizabeth works with CPAs, financial professionals, case managers, and medical providers to tailor solutions to complex family challenges. Elizabeth is often called upon to serve as a neutral party so that families can avoid protracted legal conflict. Elizabeth relies on the expertise of her team at Fleming & Curti, and as the Firm approaches its third decade, she is proud of the culture of care and consideration that the Firm embodies. Finding workable solutions to sensitive and complex family challenges is something that Elizabeth and the Fleming & Curti team do well.

Amy F. Matheson


Amy Farrell Matheson has worked as an attorney at Fleming & Curti since 2006. A member of the Southern Arizona Estate Planning Council, she is primarily responsible for estate planning and probate matters.

Amy graduated from Wellesley College with a double major in political science and English. She is an honors graduate of Suffolk University Law School and has been admitted to practice in Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Prior to joining Fleming & Curti, Amy worked for American Public Television in Boston, and with the international trade group at White & Case, LLP, in Washington, D.C.

Amy’s husband, Tom, is an astronomer at NOIRLab and the Head of Time Domain Services, whose main project is ANTARES. Sadly, this does not involve actual time travel. Amy’s twin daughters are high school students; Finn, her Irish Red and White Setter, remains a puppy at heart.

Famous people's wills

Matthew M. Mansour


Matthew is a law clerk who recently earned his law degree from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. His undergraduate degree is in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Matthew has had a passion for advocacy in the Tucson community since his time as a law student representative in the Workers’ Rights Clinic. He also has worked in both the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. He enjoys playing basketball, caring for his cat, and listening to audiobooks narrated by the authors.