legal question regarding a bank account

I was wondering if you guys could help me out with something. I have a nineteen year old friend who opened a account when she was 16 years old. Because she was a minor, she needed an adult to cosign with her, so she had her parents cosign. She still hasn’t taken their names off. Now, her mom is stealing money out of her account to put a down payment on her new car. So here’s the question: does my friend have any rights to her own money, even though three people’s names are listed on the account? Any help or advice would be very greatly appreciated.

I’m confused about whether the mother has already taken the money or intends to take the money. A down payment would be a lump sum and not something that is withdrawn a little at a time. Your friend should be able to withdraw any money that is left in the account and open a new one in her own name. If there is any money left I strongly suggest so. She could also take her mother to small claims court to recover any money that is already taken. She should be prepared to offer some proof that this money really was hers, not neccesarily ironclad. Another People’s Court episode?

I also suggest that your friend discuss this situation with an “older” adult she trusts. Taking drastic action could severely strain the relationship with her mother.

She has withdrawn 3,000 dollars laready, as far as we know. I know that she can be taken to court, but that is a option that should only be used when all else fails. I’m wondering if the money can be recovered by going to the police, and also what are her legal rights as far as her claims to the money go, as well as her mom’s rights.

IANAL, and the answer to your question is going to depend on the laws of the state in which the bank account is located and how specifically the account is titled. Were it in Wisconsin, if the account is titled as “joint tenancy” then anyone whose name is on the account has a 100% ownership interest in the account and may withdraw the money at any time. If the account is held as a “tenancy in common,” then each person is entitled only to the percentage he or she contributed to the account. If the mother contributed no money then she has no ownership interest. A quick way to tell how the account is titled is to look at the word connecting the names on it. If it’s “or” then it’s probably joint tenancy. If it’s “and” then it’s probably tenancy in common.

I’d suggest that your friend close the account immediately and consult with an attorney. She should be able to have an hour with one for $100 or so. She can contact the state bar association for a referral.

Thanks so much for the information so far! To answer some of the questions posted earlier, the state that she lives in is Louisiana. I don’t know what the laws are concerning this subject are, but if anyone knows, it would be a great help. Another question: does my friend have the right to close the account without the other cosigner’s approval? I’m guessing that there has to be some type of law stating that when you open an account as a minor, the responsibility of it reverts back to you when you reach the legal age of 18. Thanks again!

I am a lawyer, though no expert in this type of situation or the laws of your jurisdiction.

My understanding of joint accounts is that either party has the right to withdraw from the account. To the extent that the joint owners have an agreement about who should get what part of the money, that’s up to the joint owners to resolve, and the bank will not get involved.

My advice is for your friend to immediately open a new account in his or her name only. Then withdraw or transfer any remaining money in the joint account into the new single account.

Good luck.

I was a teller at a bank in Michigan for about 2 years, and when we got a situation like this, where one person on a multiple signers account is taking advantage of the account, we generally would put a freeze on the account so that NOBODY could withdrawl any money until we got some sort of legal notice stating that ownership is all sorted out, or got both/all parties involved to come into the bank and sign an agreement saying to close the account, reopen the account, change the signers on the account, etc.

But that’s just where I worked. May be different where you bank.

As a 15 year veteran of the banking industry (in Georgia), my professional opinion is that your friend is S.O.L.

Otto says:

While this is true, tenancy in common is so rare these days that I would not even consider that a possibility. Banks do not want to be put in a position of determining who contributed what percentage to the account. I do not know of any bank who would open such an account except in the most unusual of circumstances and with written legal protection for the bank.

The most common way to set up a minor account is as joint tenancy with an adult. In joint tenancy it is unlikely that the friend will be able to get any relief from the courts, either. Legally all the money belongs to each of the signers.

BTW - the word “or” in the account title simply means that any of the persons named on the account can transact business with a single signature. “And” means that all account owners must sign before the transaction is negotiable. “Or” is understood unless “and” is specified.

Chekmate says:

Unless banking laws in Michigan difer greatly from others that I am aware of, each time you did this you exposed your bank to legal action. The bank has no legal say in these matters.

xanadu asks:

Again, this depends on how the account is styled. If it were 'Friend’s Mom as Trustee for Friend" then the anser is different than if the account is styled “Friend’s Mom or Friend”. In the second case the answer to your friend is ‘yes, absolutely’. In the first case the answer is ‘maybe, maybe not’. Trustee relationships can be set up in any number of ways, each of which has its own rules. The bank should be able to answer questions about account styling and rules.

My experience leads me to believe that the account was sett up as a joint tenancy account. It’s just easier for the bank and the consumer. Unfortunately, it also leaves your friend out in the cold.

That may be how it is in Georgia, but in Wisconsin the connective word specifically and legally identifies the tenancy. It’s required on the title. Only one signature is required to transact business for any portion owned by the specific tenant.

All of this, however, may be moot since the state in question is Louisiana. Louisiana is the only state in the union whose laws are based on the Napoleonic Code rather than British common law, so the legal issues are potentially entirely different. There’s probably a provision in the state banking regs mandating pistols at dawn.

I’m not saying anyone posting above is wrong (or right), but I want to be sure you understand this:

As a general matter, the law in Louisiana is significantly different than the law in most of the other States, in a host of ways. (The law in Louisiana is in part historically based upon French law, not the English common law.) A person with a legal question arising in Louisiana is less able than a person in another jurisdiction to rely upon generalized statements of the law, because the law may be way, way different in their state than it is anywhere else.

Moroever, banking laws tend to vary from state to state anyway, because the business is highly regulated. For both these reasons, your friend will not be able to rely upon anything said here on this message board as being indicative of the law in Louisiana or her rights in Louisiana. Unless we hear from a Louisiana banking lawyer, that is, and I don’t believe we have one on the Board.

I am a lawyer who handles banking matters. I’ll start out by saying that Jodi is correct. Louisiana law tends to be very different from the laws of the other 49 states. As I’m from Illinois, not Louisiana, I have no idea what La. law may be on this subject. As the very least, though, your friend should close this account and open a new one in her name only.

In Illinois (as in most states), the law is pretty much as other posters have stated. Any joint account holder can withdraw the entire balance. Like one of the previous posters, I have seen situations where a bank freezes an account when it believes something fishy is going on. (Many account agreements give the bank the right to do this.) There’s not a whole lot more that the bank can do, though.

I have been involved in three cases with strikingly similar facts involving adverse claims to joint accounts. All three involved an elderly father who jointly held an account with an adult child. The parent became involved with a younger woman, who influenced the father to transfer the accounts to her. There’s a limit to what the bank can do in these cases, even if it strongly suspects that the old guy’s girlfriend is scamming him.

My opinion is that the friend should take her mother to small claims court and try to convince the judge that the money is rightfully hers. As much as possible, show that the money that was deposited over time came from her and not her mother. Basically, she would have to have a more convincing argument than her mother. Even if she is unable to recover her money the learning experience will be well worth the effort. In any case, she should visit a small claims court in session and see how things work there.

Without a judgement from the court, police are unable to help her recover her money. At least in California, it is the Sheriff’s office that would enforce such a judgement.

When you have someone arrested for fraud, embezzlement, theft, or whatever, that is a criminal matter. You won’t be able to recover any lost money. If she wants to recover the money from her Mom, she has to bring a civil action, culminating in a judgment. The judment (which is a lien) is enforced by a levy, issued by the sheriff, if not otherwise satisfied. The levy allows the sale of non-exempt property to satisfy the judgment.

If you want to find La. law go to

Thanks for all of your help! I was hoping for a better alternative than a lawsuit, but I can see that it would probably be the best course of action. Now all I have left to do is to convince my friend to move her money somewhere else, which will be much easier said than done. Wish me luck! (and thanks again)

coughI pointed that out 30 minutes before Jodi didcough


This is too broad a statement. The federal system allows for criminal restitution, as does the criminal laws of the state of Texas. I would bet that many jurisdictions have rules that require a defendant to return money that he stole, defrauded or embezzled.
Criminal resitution is not as broad as a civil judgment (e.g., no interest, can’t do it yourself), but it does exist. Also, if resitution is a condition of probation or parole, it carries with it the threat of imprisonment if the defendant decides not to pay.

xanadu, one of the best things to do & I often do it myself, is go talk to the bank manager yourself. They have the right answer always.

I remember when I opened my very own passbook account at age 8 - I was listed along with my mother. I also remember the phrase on the passbook

“Payable to either or the survivor”

so I guess that anything signed for by the minor and their adult is indeed payable to the other.

Lovable Rogue

Sorry, Otto!

I’ve got some academic background in the civil law of Quebec, which like Louisiana, is based on French civil law. The concepts of tenancy in common and joint tenancy do not exist in the civil law, which is derived from classic Roman law rather than the feudal estates that are the foundation of the common law.

It’s been a while since I had to muck about in the civil law and I don’t have my Code handy, but my guess is that an account could either be set up with co-owners, or with the adult as a “tutor” for the child (sort of like a property guardian). Since the minor seems to have needed a co-signer, I’d think the tutor option would be the more likely.

When a minor reaches majority, s/he is “emancipated” and gains full control of assets. I have no idea if that means that the adults then actually lose their authority over the property - much would depend on the actual terms of the contract with the bank, plus the applicable banking laws.

All of which is simply to emphasise the sensible advice given by the others - we dunno; don’t rely on us; get a Louisiana lawyer to look at the file.

Good luck.