Joint Bank Accounts: Think Twice

Earlier, I wrote about a woman from Waianae, who added her daughter to her bank account. The daughter was to use the money to pay contractors to remodel the mother’s home. This money was solely the mother’s, but instead of helping the mother, the daughter helped herself to the money (over $200,000) and disappeared.

After writing that piece about how parents need to call the police when their children steal from them — I got inquiries about whether it was really theft since the mother placed the daughter on a joint account. The answer is yes. If the person you add to your bank account contributed nothing to the account, and that person takes money without your permission, a theft has occurred. Access is not ownership.

Say for example that you let your neighbor borrow your car once. You gave him a spare set of keys but never take the time to get the keys back. One morning, your car is gone. Later you find the neighbor went joy riding. He committed the crime of unauthorized driving your car, a class “C” felony. Just because you let him drive the car before, and he had access to it, doesn’t mean he now has a controlling interest in the property.

I caution people about adding others to their bank accounts. It may seem more convenient just to put another person on a bank account instead of writing checks or giving them cash when they need money, but a person runs a risk of becoming a victim of theft and similar crimes like the one mentioned above. Even if the person you add to the joint account is trustworthy, the more people who have access to your account, the greater the risk that it will be compromised — check register errors, a lost or stolen checkbook and identity theft are examples.

One way to reduce the risk of theft of all your money is to create a separate, joint account for a particular purpose, like paying the bills. Only deposit enough money into that account to cover the bills. For example, if your monthly household expenses are $1,000, you can have your personal account automatically deposit that sum into a dedicated joint account with your family member who will be paying your bills. This may seem like humbug to set it up, but it will be much less effort than trying to recover from a crime committed by someone who could not resist the temptation of having access to large sums of money.

To report suspected elder abuse, contact the ELDER ABUSE
UNIT at: 808-768-7536 |


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