In this case, the Supreme Court of New York considered whether a joint bank account is estate property. It is commonly believed that with a joint bank account there is always the right of survivorship. This would mean that when one of the joint owners passes away, the proceeds of a joint bank account bypasses probate and automatically goes to the remaining joint owner. Under New York law, this is not the case.
In In re Najjar, the decedent and the respondent were joint owners of 4 bank accounts. The petitioner initiated estate litigation because she felt that money in the bank accounts was the property of the decedent alone and, upon her death, became the property of the decedent’ estate. The petition sought a declaration that the money in the joint bank accounts property belonged to the estate. Further, because the petition was also a co-executor of the decedent’s estate, the petitioner accused the respondent of unjust enrichment and breach of fiduciary duty. In response, the respondent sought summary judgment declaring that as the joint owner of the accounts, she was entitled to all of the money.
Under New York law, upon the death of one of the owners, ownership of the joint bank account does not automatically remain with the surviving owner. New York banking law states that a joint bank account creates a joint tenancy with right of survivorship only when the signature card for the account indicates the parties intended the right of survivorship to apply. Banking Law § 675 (a). In Najjar, the signature card did not have the right of survivorship designation. Thus, the respondent was not able to establish that under Banking Law § 675 there existed a statutory presumption of the survivorship.