A newspaper recently published a letter from a lady whose father had died. On the face of things, the father’s will split everything evenly between his two children – the writer of the letter and her brother. However, before he died the man had added his son’s name to his savings account, with his daughter’s knowledge, as the son lived nearby but the daughter didn’t.
On his death, this account contained over £50,000, and the writer’s brother claims that he is entitled to keep this money. The writer of the letter would have been disappointed to be told this was likely correct – in general, when one of the owners of a joint bank account dies, the remaining owner takes full ownership of the money in the account by ‘survivorship’.
Incidentally, this also applies where two people own a house or other property as ‘joint tenants’ (as opposed to ‘tenants in common’, whereby they own separate legal shares). When one owner dies, the house becomes the sole property of the survivor.
In the case mentioned above, if it could be proven that the father had intended to retain ‘moral ownership’ (if not sole legal ownership) of the money, perhaps by a signed letter, then his daughter could have a case. However many people would not think to do this.
However this might not be the end of the story. If the father’s estate was large enough to attract inheritance tax, and he had provided this £50,000 into the account and considered that the money belonged to him, it could still be subject to tax.
One potential solution here might have been for the father’s Will to have left his daughter a sum of money equal to the contents of this specific savings account he held with his son at his death (should the account still exist), before the balance of his estate was divided between the two of them. This would however require careful writing to ensure it achieved the father’s aims – particularly if inheritance tax was likely.