JEANNETTE WAKIM, as personal representative of the Last Will and Testament of Lawrence J. Belt, Defendant Below, Petitioner
CHRISTOPHER PAVLIC, as personal representative of the Last Will and Testament of Lila Belt, Plaintiff Below, Respondent
Submitted: September 13, 2017
from the Circuit Court of Ohio County The Honorable Ronald E.
Wilson, Judge Civil Action No. 13-C-89
G. McCoid, Esq. McCamic, Sacco & McCoid, PLLC Wheeling,
West Virginia Paul J. Harris, Esq. Shawn L. Fluharty, Esq.
Harris Law Offices Wheeling, West Virginia Counsel for the
Heceta McArdle, Esq. McArdle Law Office Wheeling, West
Virginia Counsel for the Respondent
BY THE COURT
joint tenancy is created in money deposited in a bank in the
names of two or more persons, 'in form to be paid to
either, ' under Code, 31-8-23 [currently W.Va.
Code, 31A-4-33], and the same may be withdrawn by any of
the persons so named. In the event of the death of one or
more of such depositors, a sole survivor is entitled to the
entire amount remaining in such deposit." Syl., Lett
v. Twentieth Street Bank, 138 W.Va. 759, 77 S.E.2d 813
to the death of a donor depositor, a rebuttable presumption
exists under the provisions of Code, 1931, 31A-4-33, as
amended, that the ownership of the funds is joint, a
presumption which may be overcome by competent
evidence." Syl. pt. 3, Dorsey v. Short, 157
W.Va. 866, 205 S.E.2d 687 (1974).
appeal concerns the disposition of funds withdrawn from joint
bank accounts owned by Lawrence Belt and Lila Belt during
their marriage. The funds were withdrawn from the joint
accounts by Lawrence. Several months after the withdrawals,
Lila filed for divorce but died while the divorce action was
pending. The divorce action was dismissed with prejudice and
without any rulings regarding any marital property. Lawrence
estate, through his executrix Jeannette Wakim (the
petitioner), and Lila's estate, through her executor
Christopher Pavlic (the respondent), are now fighting over
ownership of the funds Lawrence withdrew from the joint
accounts before Lila filed for divorce. The funds are
currently in an IOLTA account held on Lawrence's behalf.
Circuit Court of Ohio County split the funds in half, not on
the basis of divorce law, but simply to prevent the perceived
unjust enrichment of Lawrence's estate. Wakim, as
executrix of Lawrence's estate, appeals to this Court
from the circuit court's decision.
reverse the circuit court and conclude that Lawrence had the
right to withdraw the funds from the joint accounts by virtue
of W.Va. Code, 31A-4-33 , which states that
bank deposits may be paid to any named depositor, or the
survivor of them, of an account held in joint tenancy. Here,
the bank accounts were joint accounts with the right of
survivorship, and we note that withdrawals were made by both
Lawrence and Lila, independently, during the marriage. The
funds withdrawn by Lawrence during the marriage became the
sole property of Lawrence upon their withdrawal.
circuit court's ruling splitting the funds in half and
granting summary judgment in favor of Lila's estate is
reversed; judgment is entered in favor of Wakim as executrix
of Lawrence's estate; and this action is remanded with
directions to enter an order releasing the funds in the IOLTA
account to Lawrence's estate.
and Lila were married on November 29, 1975. Although no
children were born of the marriage, Lawrence had at least one
child from a previous marriage and two granddaughters,
Jennifer Swiger and petitioner Wakim. Lila had three children
from a previous marriage: respondent Christopher Pavlic, Mark
Pavlic and Karen Cutter. Lawrence and Lila appeared to be
financially secure during their 36 year marriage.
October 5, 2006, Lila executed a Will in which she devised
and bequeathed her entire estate to Lawrence. She named as
co-executors Christopher Pavlic and Mark Pavlic. The Will
provided that, if Lawrence were to predecease Lila, her
estate would go to Christopher and Mark, share and share
alike. Although Lila's daughter, Karen Cutter, was not
included in the Will, Lila executed a document, also dated
October 5, 2006, stating that Karen is mentally incompetent
and providing that, if Lawrence is deceased, the co-executors
would have the discretion to include Karen in the proceeds of
September 12, 2008, Lawrence executed a Will in which he
devised and bequeathed his entire estate to Lila. Lawrence
named Lila as executrix. The Will provided that, if Lila were
to predecease Lawrence, his estate would go to his
granddaughters, petitioner Wakim and Jennifer Swiger, share
and share alike. Wakim was named as an alternate executrix.
The Joint Accounts and Withdrawals
the marriage, Lawrence and Lila opened a number of joint bank
accounts between 1999 and 2006 in their names with the right
of survivorship. In June 2009, Lila was diagnosed with
cancer. Thereafter, on July 30, 2010, Lila opened two
additional joint accounts: the first in the names of
Lawrence, Lila or Mark Pavlic and the second in the names of
Lawrence, Lila or respondent Christopher Pavlic.
2011, Lila learned that her cancer was terminal. On July 15,
2011, Lawrence, age 95, withdrew $242, 773.62 from the joint
accounts and placed the funds in new accounts opened in his
name only at the same banking institutions. Petitioner Wakim,
Lawrence's executrix, asserts that Lawrence made the
withdrawals to protect the assets upon learning that Lila had
transferred at least $68, 819.30 to respondent Pavlic without
Lawrence's knowledge and consent. Wakim contends that
Lila, in her 80s, was under the undue influence of respondent
Pavlic. Conversely, Pavlic contends that Lawrence was under
the undue influence of petitioner Wakim.
The Divorce ...