Recovery of Assets for an Estate

Court rejects church’s attempt to recover assets for an estate.

Church Law and Tax 1992-07-01 Recent Developments

An Ohio appeals court rejected a church’s attempt to recover assets for an estate of which it was a beneficiary. An individual (the “testator”) executed a will on February 7, 1990, leaving all his bank accounts to a church. On March 5, 1990, the testator and a friend went to the testator’s bank and, while there, the testator had all of his accounts and certificates of deposit placed in the joint names of himself and the friend as joint tenants with right of survivorship. The friend had not contributed to any of these funds and did not thereafter contribute anything to them. The testator died on August 29, 1990. On several occasions prior to the testator’s death, the friend withdrew varying sums of money from the joint and survivorship funds totalling approximately $118,000. Within hours after the testator’s death, the friend closed the last survivorship account by withdrawing the remaining balance. The church filed a complaint in the probate court alleging that the testator’s friend was in possession of assets belonging to the testator’s estate. The church asked the court to order the friend to return to the estate all monies he had taken from the testator’s bank accounts and certificates of deposit. The probate court refused to grant the church’s request. It found that there was clear and convincing evidence that the testator intended on March 5, 1990, to make his friend a co-owner of the accounts. The court found “particularly persuasive” the testimony of the branch manager at the bank on the issue of the intent of the testator on March 5, 1990, when the joint accounts were created.” This decision was appealed by the church to a state appeals court, which affirmed the probate court’s decision. St. James Episcopal Church v. Handorf, 1991 WL 261823 (Ohio App. 1991 unpublished).

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