Answers to Legal Questions about Joint Accounts and Florida Probate Law

Florida probate law can become confusing to non-lawyers, especially when it comes to joint banking accounts owned by spouses or parents and children.

Below are some of the questions that the estate attorneys at Statewide Probate have been asked regarding these accounts and probate administration.

My mother just died, leaving my father a widower. The bank accounts are in joint names, as is their house, and her insurance and IRA both list Dad as the beneficiary. Do I still need to go through probate?

No, jointly held assets between husband and wife almost always are "survivorship" assets, with the surviving spouse automatically owning those assets upon the deceased's death. Insurance and other assets which have a "pay on death" designation pass "outside probate," at least when going to the spouse, and the beneficiaries do not need a court order. They usually have to fill out a form, submit a certified death certificate or take other steps, but probate should not be needed.

My father died recently. He left a will with my mother as sole beneficiary. We have now found that one small checking account was not set up jointly, but just in Dad's name. Can you please advise me as to what needs to be done?

If the account is small enough, possibly your mother can get a court order through a self-help, no-attorney process called Disposition Without Administration. The maximum amount allowed in such accounts and the conditions vary from county to county (because of a very vague statute subject to different interpretations). Call the probate clerk in the county where your father resided and see if you can go this route. Usually the probate clerks are helpful in this process and can provide your mother with the forms, but be sure to ask for "Disposition Without Administration." If this does not apply, a summary administration may be required, and that is where we can help.

My dad put my name on his checking account so that I could sign checks for him if he was disabled. Now that he is dead, the bank says that I can withdraw the money. Is that right?

This is one of the most confusing situations of an estate in Florida. From the bank's point of view, if your name was on the account you could have taken out money – even all the money – before your dad died. The bank is protected by Florida law regardless of who put the money into the account. However, the courts in Florida have held that under certain facts such an account could be a "convenience account," which is really property of your dad, and now belongs to his estate. Unless you are the sole beneficiary, this has the potential to create some conflict between yourself and the estate, and legal advice may be needed for all concerned.

Schedule a Free Probate Administration Consultation

Our probate law firm located in Pensacola has helped clients with estates throughout Florida, including Jacksonville, Miami, Tallahassee, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, St. Petersburg, Orlando, and Gainesville. If you still have other probate administration questions or if you are worried about the cost of your Florida estate administration, schedule a free 20-minute probate consultation at Statewide Probate today.