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Multiple Owners Have Equal Interests In Joint Bank Account

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When individuals look for ways to simplify the handling of their estates, they frequently decide to simply put their heirs’ names on assets. Parents, for example, often make their children joint owners on bank accounts—reasoning that the money will then be easier to get to if needed, and no probate proceeding will be necessary for the children to get the accounts after the parent’s death. There are dangers, of course, in creating joint tenancy accounts. A recent Connecticut case illustrates one of those dangers and also provides insight into how the law views joint tenancy bank accounts.

Salvatore Vessichio may have had probate avoidance in mind when he added the names of his two daughters, Charlene Vessichio and Sally Ann Durso, to his BankBoston account three years ago. When Mr. Vessichio died a short time later, Charlene Vessichio went to the bank, withdrew the entire account balance, paid for her father’s funeral, and placed the remaining proceeds in a brokerage account in her own name.

Her sister, Ms. Durso, demanded her half of the account. Ms. Vessichio refused to turn it over, pointing to a Connecticut state statute which specifically authorized the bank to release a joint tenancy account to any one of the joint tenants. Ms. Durso then filed a lawsuit against her sister.

The trial court concluded that Ms. Durso and Ms. Vessichio had owned an equal interest in the bank account, but that payment of Mr. Vessichio’s funeral expenses was a legitimate use of the money. The court ordered Ms. Vessichio to return half of the remaining account balance to her sister. The Connecticut Court of Appeals agreed, noting that the statute on which Ms. Vessichio relied was really intended to protect the bank from claims by joint tenants, not to protect the joint tenants from claims against one another. Durso v. Vessichio, August 26, 2003.

Arizona law is very similar. The presumption is that joint tenancy property is owned equally among all joint tenants, but that each named account owner is entitled to manage the entire account. That is one reason that placing a child’s name on an account as a joint tenant is dangerous—Ms. Vessichio could have withdrawn the entire account and held the proceeds in her own name even before her father died, thereby depriving him of his own funds.

When one joint tenant has contributed more than his or her share of a joint account, however, the interests of the joint tenants are proportional to their actual contributions. In other words, in an action against Ms. Vessichio by her father he should have been able to secure return of the entire account, not just a one-third interest. Her ability to withdraw the account balance, however, would have put him through a legal proceeding to establish his rights.

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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.