If you are given an interest in property via a joint tenancy shortly before the other joint tenant’s death, is this considered to be an inheritance?

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If you are given an interest in property via a joint tenancy shortly before the other joint tenant’s death, is this considered to be an inheritance?

My divorce decree requires that my ex-husband give me 1/2 of “any inheritance he receives”. He visited his mother a week before she died in the hospital, after which she added him to her bank account as a joint tenant (accounts totaled $800,000). After her death he received these accounts; he was not named in her Will. Her created a joint tenancy situation is the sticking point legally. Is this still regarded as inheritance by the court? He is not named as beneficiary by the banks.

Asked on August 13, 2011 Vermont

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

You should review this situation with an attorney who can evaluate the language of the divorce decree in detail. The short answer is: technically it's not an inheritance, since the asset did not pass by either will or intestate succession. However, under the circumstances, especially with the mother dying a week after the transaction, if you challenge it,  a court might consider this either a de facto inheritance (looking to substance, not form) or consider that this transfer was essentially a fraud on the court--an attempt to get around the court's decree. In either event, a court might use its equitable power to give you 1/2 of the money in the account . . . again you need to consult with an attorney, who can evaluate the language of the decree in detail, but this may be worth fighting, notwithstanding that on its face, this is not an inheritance.


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