Reed: Beware advice from the internet

Sandra W. Reed
Sandra Reed

Don’t get me wrong. I love the internet. I happily Google all sorts of things to get instant answers. But, when I noticed a posting by Marketwatch, I was shocked bad advice for Texans in an posting by Quentin Fottrell.

The question was whether the individual was legally or morally obliged to disclose to her siblings or the probate lawyer a bank account her mother had added the daughter to before she died. The individual had handled her mother’s financial affairs for 10 years through the account.

The reply stated that, given the daughter’s commitment, he saw no moral or legal obligation to disclose. Wrong. The daughter would have handled her mother’s affairs pursuant to a power of attorney on file with the banking and investment institutions involved to authorize her to take charge of her mother’s finances. Thus, she would have had a fiduciary responsibility of upmost honesty and care, which would include disclosure of its existence to her siblings.

In Texas, upon death of owner of a joint account, the funds in the account belong to the person who provided them. The daughter admitted all the money had been her mother’s, so all the money belongs in the mother’s estate. The daughter not only has a moral but a legal obligation to reveal the existence of the account.

The daughter contended that mother wanted her to have this money. The adviser said, in that case, the siblings should respect the mother’s wishes. Wrong again. The mother’s will and the contract with the bank govern the mother’s intent and where the money goes. Her intent must be determined strictly from the “four corners” of these documents, not from any verbal wishes.

If the mother had wanted her daughter to have the money, she would have established a joint account with right of survivorship in favor of the daughter. In that case, the money would have, upon the mother’s death, gone outside of her estate directly to the daughter. Even then, the daughter should disclose the existence of the account to the attorney representing the estate. He can then explain her entitlement to her siblings.

Sandra W. Reed practices Elder Law in Somervell County, handling probating of estates, drafting of wills, trusts, powers of attorney and deeds as well as estate and Medicaid planning.  She lives on beautiful Chalk Mountain and can be reached at 254.797.0211; 817.946.2809 or at sreed@kbzlaw.com.