See our prior blog post on the issue of whether an inconsistent will can overcome the presumption that a joint account passes to the surviving joint owner. (You may be surprised at what the Superior Court said.)
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has granted the petition for Allowance of Appeal from the Order of the Superior Court in the Estate of Alice Novosielski. The saga conitnues. See the Order here.
In Novosielski, the executor of the decedent’s estate, who was also the decedent’s attorney-in-fact. took ownership of a joint account as the surviving joint owner. In September 2000, the decedent signed a will leaving the executor approximately 10% of her estate. Four days after the codicil was executed, the decedent signed a Treasury bill, bond, note tender prepared by the executor which created a joint interest in a treasury account between the decedent and the executor.
If the executor was the owner of the joint account, he would have received approximately 4/5 of the decedent’s total estate. The court found that there was clear and convincing evidence that the decedent did not want the executor to be the owner of the joint account, because of her mental state, the short time that had elapsed since the execution of the codicil, and the "vast difference" between what the executor would have received under the codicil and from the joint account.
A similar result in In Re Piet makes us estate planners feel like the earth is shifting under our feet.
Here are the issues to be briefed in the Novieliski appeal:"
(1) By applying state law to override federal treasury regulations, is the Superior Court’s award of the joint treasury account to the decedent’s estate precluded by the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution?
(2) Did the Superior Court err in holding that the presumption of survivorship under 20 Pa.C.S.A. § 6304(a) is defeated, per se, if the joint account results in an allocation of the estate that is inconsistent with an existing will?
(3) Did the Superior Court err in determining, under 20 Pa.C.S.A. § 6304(a), that there was clear and convincing evidence of a different intent at the time the account was created?
(4) Did the Superior Court err in failing to accord the factual findings of the master the same weight and effect as a jury verdict?