Beneficial ownership of money held in a joint bank account (Whitlock v Moree)

Beneficial ownership of money held in a joint bank account (Whitlock v Moree)

The case of Whitlock and another v Moree (Bahamas) [2017] UKPC 44 considers the entitlement of a surviving joint bank account holder to the beneficial interest in the monies represented by that account where the deceased joint account holder provided all the funds for the account.

Why is the case of interest?

The case considered the existing—and somewhat conflicting—case law on whether a surviving joint bank account holder has to rebut a presumption that there exists a resulting trust in favour of the estate of the deceased funding joint bank account holder in order to establish beneficial ownership of the monies even where the account documentation states the rule of survivorship applies giving the survivor sole ownership rights.

In Whitlock and another v Moree (Bahamas) a majority of the Privy Council decided that where the documents opening the joint bank account contained terms indicating that the survivor was to be the sole owner, these terms applied to the legal and beneficial interest and no further investigation was necessary, unless there were special circumstances such as evidence of fraud or undue influence.

What were the facts?

Mr L and Mr Moree were joint bank account holders. Mr L paid all of the funds into the account.

The Bank’s standard joint account opening form stated at Clause 20:

‘JOINT TENANCY: Unless otherwise agreed in writing, all money which is now or may later be credited to the Account (including all interest) is our joint property with the right of survivorship. That means that if one of us dies, all money in the Account automatically becomes the property of the other account holder(s). In order to make this legally effective, we each assign such money to the other account holder (or the others jointly if there is more than one other account holder).’

A box on the relevant form headed ‘State Purpose of Account’ contained the words ‘to pay utilities’.

Upon Mr

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About the author:

Miranda is a solicitor specialising in leveraged and acquisition finance. She trained at Hogan Lovells International LLP and qualified into the international banking and finance team. During her time at Hogan Lovells she worked on a variety of domestic and cross-border transactions, acting for both borrowers and lenders. She also experienced secondments to Barclays Bank PLC and Kaupthing Bank hf.