February 18, 2022

Interpleader in an Estate Case

A typical estate dispute will involve ownership of assets, i.e. which party is the true owner of the asset in question. For example, a spouse may claim that a bank account owned by their late spouse is the property of the surviving spouse. Conversely, the late spouse's child may claim that the bank account is actually owned by the child through a testamentary instrument. The result is that the financial institution will be proverbially trapped in the middle as each side will claim to be the true owner of the property. 

In response, a financial institution may, but is not required to, file an interpleader action to deposit the funds with the court and let the parties litigate the matter. 

A recent unpublished appellate decision involved this issue:

"On January 23, 2020, BofA answered Royals's petition and simultaneously filed a motion for interpleader and discharge under section 386.5. The interpleader motion disclosed that on receiving the TPO, BofA had frozen all of Lu's accounts and that, while the 9029 Account contained no funds, the aggregate balance of the other frozen accounts was $250,558.14. The interpleader motion asserted that BofA was simply a stakeholder, having no interest in the frozen funds, and that BofA wished to deposit the frozen funds with the court clerk. BofA took the position that it was subject to conflicting demands from the Adams Trust, on the one hand, and from Lu, on the other, to funds held in accounts bearing Lu's name.

Alleging that it could not determine which of these two competing claims was valid without exposing itself to potential liability to the disappointed claimant, BofA asked that the court grant its interpleader motion, to allow BofA to deposit the disputed funds with the clerk, and then to discharge BofA from further liability in the suit. In support of the motion, BofA submitted a declaration from an assistant vice president stating that it was "prepared to tender immediately the sum of $250,558.14, i.e. the funds currently frozen in the At-issue Accounts, with the Clerk of Court." BofA also sought an award of its costs and attorney fees under section 386.6, subdivision (a)." 

"On March 12, 2020, following a hearing, the court granted BofA's interpleader motion and entered an order directing BofA to deposit the frozen $250,558.14 with the court clerk and be discharged from the action. The order also awarded BofA $3,930 in fees and costs "which amount is to be withheld from the $250,558.14."

Royals et al. v. Lu, Contra Costa County Superior Court, case # MSP1901563