The decedent died intestate in February 2014 at the age of 84. His wife had died in 1999. Decedent was survived by three sons: (Paul), petitioner and personal representative (Mike), and respondent (Greg). Decedent and his wife opened a joint account at a credit union, with Greg listed as the sole beneficiary. After Decedent's wife died, he and Greg signed a document at the credit union that included a Joint Share Account Agreement.
After Decedent died, petitioner (Mike) sued Greg, alleging embezzlement or conversion, breach of fiduciary duties, undue influence, and fraudulent concealment as to Greg's use of funds in the credit union account and a bank account. The parties agree that from 2000 until Decedent's death in 2014, Greg paid Decedent's bills from the two accounts. They differ, however, with respect to the propriety of Greg's use of funds in excess of those needed to pay Decedent's bills.
To overcome the statutory presumption, petitioner (Mike) has to present clear and convincing evidence that Decedent, at the time he entered into the joint account agreement, did not intend to have joint ownership of the funds to be deposited in the account, or provide at least reasonably clear and persuasive proof of fraud or undue influence.
The court concluded that petitioner did not carry his burden. As to evidence that Decedent intended the account as an account of convenience to allow Greg to pay his bills, rather than a joint account, petitioner could only point to statements from his own deposition indicating that Decedent, at some unspecified time, had stated that he wanted his money split three ways and that everyone would be 'well taken care of' when he passed away. This does not rise to the standard of clear and convincing evidence, especially in light of the fact that for 3 years before the creation of the joint account, Greg was listed as the sole beneficiary on the account and had an ATM card for it.
The court held that the petitioner (Mike) did not produce sufficient evidence and that he presented no evidence that Greg exerted undue influence on their father, the decedent (Decedent). Thus, it affirmed the probate court's order denying the petition to return estate assets and granting respondents' summary disposition motion.
Given the emotional nature of these disputes and their financial impact on all involved, it is critical that anyone involved in such a dispute retain highly qualified legal counsel. Probate litigation is complex and requires the attention of experienced and knowledgeable counsel.