Mims-Brown v. Brown, 428 S.W.3d 366 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2014, no pet.).


Joint Account


Depositor opened an account checking the box which stated, “Joint Tenants with Right of Survivorship.”  Both the depositor and the other joint party (depositor’s step-mother, I think) signed the account contract.  In addition, the terms of the contract incorporated both existing and subsequent consumer information brochures which explained that a joint account with right of survivorship means that “on the death of any account holder, the deceased party’s ownership of the account passes to the surviving account holders.”  Upon Depositor’s death, Depositor’s surviving spouse claimed that the account did not meet the statutory requirements to imbue the account with the survivorship feature.  The trial court rejected this claim and the surviving spouse appealed.


The appellate court affirmed.  The court conducted a detailed review of the account contract and the applicable provisions of the Probate Code in determining the account had the survivorship feature.  The court rejected the surviving spouse’s argument that the safe harbor language set forth in the statute had to be followed precisely to create the right of survivorship.  Instead, the court pointed to the statutory language which clearly shows that the exact language of the statute is not necessary as long as it is substantially similar.


Moral:  Financial institutions are well-advised to use the precise language of the Estates Code on their account contracts to avoid claims such as the one made in this case.  Likewise, estate planners should carefully inspect the signature cards and account contracts of clients to ascertain that the language used will carry out their clients’ intent and be unlikely to give rise to litigation.