N.M. writes: My father’s will says that his estate should be divided between his five children.
However, before he died he added my brother’s name to his savings account, which holds more than £100,000.
My brother says he can keep it all. Is this correct, as I believe this was not my father’s intention?
Tony Hetherington replies: You have told me that your father added your brother’s name to the account as a matter of convenience. Your father had difficulties walking, and English was his second language, so it was understandable that he would trust one of his adult children to have access to his money so he could be sure that bills were paid.
But I am afraid I have bad news for you. Your brother is almost certainly right, and can keep the £100,000-plus that was in your father’s account when he died.
The basic rule is that when one signatory to a joint account dies, whatever is in the account then belongs to the remaining signatory.
It does not matter what the deceased’s will says, because any jointly held bank or building society account immediately passes to the surviving account holder, and all they need do is produce the death certificate to have the account put in their sole name.
There is an exception to this rule. If your father and your brother agreed that ownership of the cash stayed with your father, or that it was divided in a particular way, then you would have grounds for insisting that your brother is wrong to pocket the lot. But you would need evidence, such as a letter or trust deed signed by them both.
In fact, the executors of your father’s will may find that they face their own problems. Even though your brother says all the £100,000-plus is automatically his, the taxman may still regard it as part of your father’s estate for tax purposes.
If your father’s estate is big enough to be liable for inheritance tax, the executors may be asked by the taxman to prove who provided the money in the account.
If your father provided it all, and your brother provided none, then the whole of the account is likely to be taxable.
Joint accounts in a family are convenient and sensible, if they are based on trust and honesty. However, I am afraid they can backfire in exactly the way you have found.