Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Credit Union used a single contract to govern all of a customer’s accounts opened under the same membership number. The contract provided that any joint accounts opened under the contract would have rights of survivorship. After one party (husband) to a joint account died, Credit Union paid all funds in the account to the survivor (wife). Approximately one year later, Independent Executor claimed that the account lacked the survivorship feature because the specific account lacked its own survivorship agreement. Accordingly, the executor asserted that the estate was entitled to one-half of the account because the account contained community property. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Credit Union and Independent Executor appealed.
The appellate court affirmed. The court found that the language of the contract which both husband and wife signed governed all of the accounts they had in Credit Union whether they were open at the time they signed the agreement or thereafter.
Note: The court reached an issue which was not necessary to decide, that is, whether the account had the survivorship feature. Credit Union was entitled to pay any party to the joint account any part of or all of the funds in the account under Probate Code § 445. The court failed to distinguish between ownership of the funds in the account and the ability to withdraw those funds. Even if the account lack the survivorship feature, Credit Union had the authority to pay all funds in the account to the surviving joint party.
Moral: A financial institution may rely on one account contract to govern multiple accounts.