When it’s not specifically authorized! It’s true, unknowing to a large population, all jointly held bank accounts are not created equal. The deciding factor? The authority given by the primary account holder. Like most of my other baby boomer friends, one day I got a call from my aging grandmother requesting that I place my name on her checking account. That account consisted of regular monthly deposits of her Social Security and retirement benefits, but no funds of my own. Thus, while I became a legal joint owner on the account, It was clearly understood between us that, the placement of my name on her bank account was purely for her convenience and only for the purpose of assisting her with the payment of her bills, when asked or in time of true emergency.
But, as an additional legal joint owner on the account, didn’t I technically gain the legal right to make withdrawals and/or spend some of the money without first asking permission? No. In fact, a recent Maryland Court of Appeals decision has determined that a conviction of theft was proper based upon what was determined to be a “unauthorized misappropriation of account funds”, because the defendant (additional joint account holder) was not an “owner” of the account such that the defendant had a right to withdraw funds. Jacqueline v. State, No. 2299, Sept. Term, 2013. In short, because there was an unauthorized withdrawal of funds that did not technically belong to him/her, the withdrawal became a criminal offense and therefore, subject to prosecution.
So if you’re “dipping in the till” of a family member or friend by way of unauthorized and undisclosed withdrawals, bill-paying services, check writing, ATM/check card usage and/or telephone or on-line banking transfers, you should stop. If you know of someone that may be doing the same you might want to refer them to this blog and let them know that criminal prosecution is a real possibility. If that still doesn’t work, call me. Why? Because you’ll deserve good counsel!
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