If you want your son or daughter to assist you with your payment of bills and reconciling your checking account or you wish a specific bank account to go to one of your sons or daughters upon your death without it going through a Will, you should speak with your estate-planning attorney and the customer service representative of that bank. There are several types of accounts that can accommodate your goals yet merely adding your son or daughter as a joint owner to the account can be a mistake.
New Hampshire has a statute, RSA 383-B:4-405, on joint bank accounts which states that in the absence of a written agreement if two or more persons are named on an account as owners, the account shall be payable to any owner, and in the event of death, to the survivors of them. The survivors are entitled to ownership of the account whether or not: (i) the funds deposited were property of only one or some of the owners; (ii) at the time of the making of such deposits there was an intention on the part of the owners making the deposits to vest the other(s) with a present interest therein; (iii) only one of the owners during their lives had the right to withdraw such deposits; or (iv) there was the delivery of any bank book, account book, savings account book, certificates of deposit, or other evidence of such account by the owner(s) making such deposits to the other owner(s). Basically setting up the account as mentioned above could cause you difficulties if the child that is on the account is going through a divorce and the estranged spouse does not agree that your son or daughter was on the account purely as an accommodation to pay bills. Also if your son or daughter on your account has creditor problems that creditor could seek a judicial lien called an attachment on the account. While a judge may be convinced later to remove the lien an easy way to avoid that is to talk to your bank customer service representative and set up the account the way you want it set up and the bank can set it up with your daughter being an agent of yours under a Power of Attorney if the goal is for her to pay bills. If the goal is to get the bank account beyond your death to that child without it going through probate, the account can be payable upon death to that child with you having the ability to change your mind on that just like you can change your Will. Simply put, you should speak with your estate-planning attorney and your bank to decide how best to address your estate-planning needs for those accounts. Your goals can be thwarted if you merely add your son or daughter to your account as a joint owner.
J. Daniel Marr is a Director and Shareholder at Hamblett & Kerrigan, P.A. His legal practice includes counseling businesses and individuals on a variety of legal issues and advocating on their behalf. Attorney Marr is licensed and practices in both New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Attorney Marr can be reached at [email protected].