Placencia v. StrazicichAnnotate this Case
Ralph Placencia died, leaving behind, among other things, a will, a trust, and a joint bank account with an express right of survivorship in favor of one of his daughters, appellant Lisa Strazicich. Ralph left clear statements in his will that he did not want Lisa to have the right of survivorship; he wanted the proceeds of the account to go to his trust so it could benefit all three of his daughters. After his death, Lisa refused to relinquish the funds. Lisa and respondent Stephanie Placencia, another of Ralph’s daughters, both of whom were cotrustees of Ralph’s trust, filed petitions in the probate court to determine the parties’ respective rights. Once established, the terms of a multi-party account” could only be changed by filing the applicable paperwork with the financial institution. The Court of Appeal surmised Ralph clearly expressed the intent to negate survivorship, but the form of the account included a right of survivorship, and Ralph did not use one of the methods listed in Probate Code section 5303 to change the terms of the account. The Court of Appeal recognized the explicit distinction drawn in the the California Multiple-Party Accounts Law (CAMPAL) between the actual ownership of the beneficial interests in the account, and the express terms of the account: the distinction allowed the court to honor the clear intent of the person who established the account while at the same time offer protection to the financial institution which held the account. The Court held that the financial institution was correct to pay the funds to Lisa pursuant to the express terms of the account, but the beneficial owner of the funds was Ralph’s estate. Furthermore, the Court concluded the probate court properly relied on Ralph’s will as evidence of his intent, notwithstanding section 5302(e), which provided that a right of survivorship “cannot be changed by will. ... The court may still look to the will as an expression of intent to negate survivorship." Nevertheless, the Court of Appeal reversed on two issues: (1) the funds in the bank account belonged to Ralph’s estate, which had not been subject to a probate proceeding - the probate court erred in awarding those funds directly to the trust in the absence of a proceeding; and (2) in light of that reversal, the matter was remanded for a reassessment of Stephanie’s attorney fees.