After a loved one dies, the last thing most family members are thinking of is money. However, at some point, estate administration is needed, and the wishes of the deceased must be done. This is done through the probate process, and a recent ruling shows how complicated this process can become. Specifically, the Arizona Court of Appeals found that a joint account containing nearly $250,000 was not part of the probate process.

In our state, prior to 1994, any heir had the right to challenge whether any monies held in joint accounts should be part of the deceased estate. They only had to show that there was evidence of a different intention. In other words, the heir need only show that the deceased did not want the money in the joint accounts to flow to the joint account holders only. Not so anymore.

Now, any accounts, jointly held under right of survivorship, cannot be altered by estate planning documents. The Court of Appeals found this definitively: “[it] may not be altered by will.”

The underlying case concerned joint accounts that were jointly owned by the deceases (Plutarco Balli) and his two daughters. When one of those daughters was named the executor of the deceased estate, she did not include those accounts in the estate before the probate court.

This was challenged by the deceased other three children. They argued it should be part of the probate, but the daughters argued that as the joint owners, they were entitled to the account, regardless of the deceased wishes. The district court agreed, and it was upheld on appeal.

This case shows how complicated the estate planning and probate process can become. Even seemingly settled law can change, which means those should not enter this process alone. Seeking counsel from an attorney can help streamline the process.