Nov. 2, 2017 – Robert Zernzach deposited $200,000 into a P.O.D. (payable on death) bank account, naming two beneficiaries on the bank account agreement. Recently, a state appeals court ruled that a handwritten note did not change the P.O.D. beneficiary.
Tom Mueller, the plaintiff, argued that Zernzach named him as the P.O.D. beneficiary through a handwritten note, before Zernzach died. But the circuit court ruled that the P.O.D. beneficiaries listed on Zernzach’s bank account controlled.
In Mueller v. Edwards, 2016AP2437 (Oct. 25, 2017), a three-judge panel for the District II Court of Appeals affirmed, concluding that a separate writing was not sufficient to change the P.O.D. beneficiaries that Zernzach listed on the bank account record.
Mueller, Zernzach’s friend and neighbor, found the handwritten note in Zernzach’s safe. The note listed seven bank accounts, listing Mueller as the beneficiary on six of them. But Zernzach did not change the beneficiary information listed on bank records.
The appeals court noted detailed procedures, under the Wisconsin statutes, for establishing a P.O.D. account in Wisconsin. Wis. Stat. section 705.01(9), in particular, says a P.O.D. beneficiary means “a person designated on a P.O.D. account. …”
“A P.O.D. beneficiary must be named in the account records of the financial institution such that the financial institution can adhere to its contract to pay the depositor’s funds to the beneficiary as it was directed upon the depositor’s death,” wrote Judge Paul Reilly for the three-judge panel. “A separate writing not filed by a depositor with a financial institution is ineffective to alter a P.O.D. beneficiary designation.”
This conclusion is consistent with section 705.04(3), the panel noted, which says P.O.D. beneficiary designations cannot be changed by will.