In In re Estate of DeFrank, 433 N.J. Super. 258 (App. Div. Nov. 15, 2013), a New Jersey appeals court reversed a trial court’s summary judgment dismissal of a case involving ownership of joint bank accounts. The Appellate Division reasoned that ownership turned on the intent of the decedent and the relationship of the parties, which are issues that generally should not be decided before a trial.

Aurelia DeFrank died survived by her two daughters, Lorraine and Diane. Mrs. DeFrank had executed a will that named Diane as executrix. In addition to other assets, the decedent had non-probate assets consisting of thirteen accounts, all jointly titled in the names of decedent and Diane; Lorraine was omitted.

Lorraine filed an Order to Show Cause to compel Diane to provide an accounting of the estate. The defendant, Diane, then filed a motion for summary judgment, seeking a ruling that the joint bank accounts in the names of the decedent and defendant were non-probate assets that, upon decedent’s death, became defendant’s sole property. Plaintiff cross-moved for a ruling that the accounts belonged to the estate because the defendant had not rebutted the presumption of undue influence.

The trial court had ruled that the Multiple-Party Deposit Account Act creates a rebuttable presumption that a right of survivorship is created. Therefore, the joint accounts would pass to defendant, the surviving joint-owner, unless the plaintiff rebutted the statutory presumption by proving either 1) that at the time she created the accounts, the decedent did not intend that the funds on deposit would pass to Diane upon the decedent’s death; or 2) that Diane enjoyed a “confidential relationship” with decedent at the time the accounts were created, such that the joint accounts were the result of undue influence. Because it found that neither had been shown, the trial court had granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant. I previously reported on the trial court decision here.

On appeal, the Appellate Division reversed and remanded, concluding that there were disputed facts concerning the decedent’s state of mind and her relationship with the parties, which generally should not be decided on summary judgment. It found that “a rational factfinder could find a confidential relationship existed between defendant and her mother, or that the accounts were created for decedent’s convenience only, or both.

A copy of the case can be found here – In re Estate of DeFrank.

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