In re Estate of Dellinger, 224 S.W.3d 434 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2007, no pet.).

Other Estate Planning Matters

Multiple Party Accounts

Joint Accounts

Survivorship Feature Established by Incorporation by Reference


Decedent and Survivor opened a bank account. None of the boxes on the front of the account application which could be used to indicate the type of account were marked. The application provided that by signing, the parties were agreeing to the terms of a separate account agreement document which contained a provision stating that unless the application provided otherwise, joint accounts had the survivorship feature. After Decedent died, a dispute arose over ownership of the funds in this account – did they belong to Survivor or did they pass under the residuary clause of Decedent’s will? The probate court granted Survivor’s motion for a summary judgment that the account had the survivorship feature and a residuary beneficiary appealed.

The appellate court affirmed. The court recognized that under Probate Code § 439(a) and cases such as Stauffer v. Henderson, 801 S.W.2d 858 (Tex. 1990), joint accounts do not have the survivorship feature unless the deceased joint party has signed an agreement conferring the right of survivorship. The court explained that although the account application was silent, it expressly incorporated by reference the account agreement. This agreement had clear language providing for survivorship rights and thus Survivor was entitled to the funds remaining in the account. The fact that Decedent did not sign this agreement was irrelevant because “an unsigned paper may be incorporated by reference in the paper signed by the person sought to be charged.”

Moral: The survivorship feature may be established by the terms of an unsigned document incorporated by reference into the signed account contract.