There’s a reason we read the “Dear Abby” columns. There are several reasons, in fact. They are relatable – with stories about people like us or people we know. They grab our attention and inspire our curiosity—does Jane Doe have the same questions that I do? Are they being answered in a way that is useful to me? And most importantly, or at least most entertainingly, the columns usually contain some real life friend-or-family drama that is better than whatever is on TV because we assume that it’s not staged. Well, Mr. Premack isn’t “Abby,” but when one citizen of San Antonio wrote in asking for his advice, all the elements of a good “Dear Abby” column came together in what the San Antonio lawyer published as a response here.
Asking about rights of survivorship versus wills and testament priority, at first glance writer A.V seems to bring up a dry subject. What’s juicy in that? Reading on we find out it is family drama, as usual: A.V.’s brother inherited a brokerage account, and his wife wants to claim it in the event of brother’s death, even though brother has listed A.V. as a joint tenant with rights of survivorship on the account. While I’d be kind of miffed if I were the brother and these ladies were fighting over my property before I’m even in bad health, Mr. Premack does a good job of responding in a thorough, informative and helpful way, at least, for a San Antonio lawyer anyway.
Mr. Premack’s qualifications are his status as a Five Star Wealth Manager and Certified Elder Law Attorney (yeah, that’s a real thing), so we can pretty much take his word for how things should go down after A.V.’s brother kicks it (which hopefully won’t be for some time). Mr. Premack clearly states that the agreement listing A.V. as joint tenant with rights of survivorship on the account will supersede whatever Miss Wife wants to do with the will in a court of law. He cites a very recent (March of 2014) appeals case in the state of Texas that backs up his opinion. The law “does not require any specific formula to be recited in the contract, just a clear intent that the assets should belong to the survivor if either party should die.” In A.V.’s case, that means brother’s wife has to keep her grubby hands off.
Other attorneys like San Antonio lawyer S. Lee Stevenson agree. They would probably tell A.V. the same thing Premack did: obtain a copy of the brokerage account’s signature card and accompanying documents from the brokerage to have on file. Maybe even speak with an estate planning attorney, (not unlike San Antonio lawyer Mr. Premack himself…) to get an opinion whether anything else should be done, or the documentation that currently exists will satisfy the law. Stevenson and other lawyers familiar with Texas marriage laws would be good to give A.V. the same caveat Premack did, though: the interest earned on the brokerage account while brother is alive is community property, and wifey is entitled to half, so some extra fancy legal and accounting footwork may need to occur before all parties can be satisfied. Thanks, Mr. Premack; we appreciate your advice.