Payment on Death Beneficiary Accounts, also known as P.O.D. accounts, have been gaining in popularity over the last several years. A P.O.D. account designation is a contract between you and your financial institutions that upon your death, the financial institution agrees to pay whatever money is in the account at the time of your death to your listed beneficiaries. It acts the same way a life insurance policy does. It is very easy and convenient. All you have to do is go to your bank or download the form of the financial institution’s website, fill out the form with your information and the names of who you want to receive the money in your account. In most cases you don’t need it witnesses, just notarized. After you have passed away, the named beneficiary will take a copy of your death certificate and their driver’s license to the financial institution and they will cut the beneficiary a check for the amount. It’s very simple and very fast. It also bypasses Probate.
The advantage of a P.O.D. account can cut both ways, though. Most of the designation forms only require a notarization, and do not require two witnesses at the signing that a Will does. This means that a POD beneficiary designation form is often the form unscrupulous people take to get an elderly person with possible dementia to sign a POD beneficiary form. It bypasses Probate and it is very easy and convenient for the beneficiary to go collect the money. This is why I have seen an increase in beneficiary designation litigation. One child, normally the caretaker of mom or dad, will have the elderly parent sign a beneficiary designation form for the parent’s bank account “to make it easier for the child to manage their expenses” and they don’t realize that upon their death, the entire amount in the bank account goes to that once child, and not to all their children.
Another point to keep in mind is that POD designation pass outside of Probate, so that pass outside of the Will too. If you have terms in your will that all your assets are to be split equally among your three children, but you have your oldest child as POD beneficiary on your bank account with 100K in it, then the oldest is going to receive that 100K, despite what the Will says. The beneficiary designation is a contract between you and the financial institution, so it trumps the terms of the Will.
When it comes to bank accounts, there are three main distinctions.
The first type of account is a Joint Account. Most married couples have a Joint Account. This means that they both have access to the account and can write checks. However, if one of them passes away, the survivor only has rights to one half of the account. If in the Will the Decedent names the surviving spouse as the beneficiary, then the surviving spouse will inherit the other half of the account, but it’s important to understand that the joint owner does not automatically inherit the other half of the account.
The second type of account is a Joint Account with Rights of Survivorship. The last part of that phrase makes a huge difference. This type of account is the same as above, with two or more owners, but “with rights of survivorship” means that the surviving spouse or surviving joint owner will have automatic rights to 100% of the account if the other joint owner dies. This happens outside of the Will, meaning if in your Will you have that Tim will receive all your assets, but you own a Joint Account with Rights of Survivorship with Mary, then Mary will own the entire account and Tim will receive nothing in that account.
Finally, you have authorized users. An authorized user is someone that you have identified to the bank (normally a spouse or child) that you have given authorization to access your account and is able to write checks on your account. The big difference with an authorized user versus the above two types of accounts is that the moment you pass away, the authorized user has no more legal access to the account and authorized user never has ownership rights to the money in the account. So if you were to pass away and you had Tim listed as your authorized user, Tim’s right to access the account ends the moment you pass away. He is also NOT entitled to any of the money in the account.
For all of these accounts, and single person accounts, you may place a beneficiary designation on the account. In the event you pass away, your named beneficiary will receive the money in the account.
It’s important to check with your bank to see which type of account you have because it can make a huge difference in who actually receives or inherits your financial accounts.
Blaise Regan is a Partner at Regan & Frisbie, PLLC, a law firm focusing on Wills, Trusts, Probate, Contracts, Business Formations (LLC, Corporation, S-Corp Designation), Business Disputes, and Consumer Litigation.
Regan & Frisbie, PLLC is located at 7160 Preston Road, Suite 100, Plano, Texas 75024.
Comments or questions, feel free to email him at Blaise@RFPlawfirm.com or call him at 469.200.4737.
*Nothing in this Article is to be considered as the rendering of legal advice for specific cases, or creating an attorney-client relationship, and readers are responsible for obtaining such advice from their own legal counsel. This article is intended for educational and informational purposes only, and no warranty or representation is made as to the accuracy or completeness of the information contained herein.