Bank accounts owned by a married couple are protected from the creditors of either spouse if the account is owned as tenants by the entireties.
When a married couple opens a new bank account, they can choose (usually on their signature card) how they want to title the account. Some banks offer tenants by entireties ownership as an option on their signature cards. But most banks do not. Florida court decisions over several decades attempted to set standards for opening an entireties account, but still left important unsettled issues.
In 2008, the Florida legislature amended Statute 655.79 in an attempt to simplify the process for opening a joint entireties account. The statute says that all marital joint accounts are considered entireties accounts unless otherwise specified in writing. Most attorneys interpreted the statute to mean that all joint marital accounts are protected entireties accounts unless the spouses choose a different option on their signature card.
However, a Florida appellate decision has added another issue to the entireties account process: Storey Mountain LLC vs. George (2023 WL 1999960). The court considered what happens when a married couple is not offered an entireties option on the signature card. The bank account at issue in this particular case was at PNC Bank. While the signature card made no reference to the type of joint account opened, the PNC Bank customer agreement had the following language:
FOR ACCOUNTS IN FLORIDA: If an Account is in the names of spouses, you understand, intend and agree that such an Account is NOT owned as tenants by the entireties unless otherwise expressly designated on the Account records. We reserve the right to refuse to allow you to hold the Account as tenants by the entireties, in our discretion
The court held that the account was not an entireties account because of the terms of the bank’s written deposit contract. The contract’s disallowance of entireties ownership counted as “unless otherwise specified in writing” under the law.
The decision means that the signature card is not the only writing that is important in terms of whether or not a bank account is owned as tenants by entireties. The bank itself can expressly block entireties ownership in the bank’s standard customer agreement.
People concerned with the asset protection of their bank accounts should read the standard customer agreement the bank gave them when they opened their joint checking or savings account. The bank’s policy stated in the agreement may determine whether their joint checking account is protected from each spouse’s creditors as an entireties account.
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