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Cziger v. Bernstein

Decided: December 29, 1954.

STEFAN CZIGER, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
MAURICE M. BERNSTEIN, EXECUTOR OF THE ESTATE OF JOHN CZIGER AND KAROLINA CZIGER, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS



Clapp, Jayne and Francis. The opinion of the court was delivered by Clapp, S.j.a.d.

Clapp

This is a litigation over two savings and loan accounts standing in the names of John Cziger, now deceased, and his second wife, as joint tenants with right of survivorship. The trial court held she was entitled to the accounts by virtue of a gift inter vivos. Plaintiff, the son of decedent's first marriage and the sole beneficiary under his will, appeals.

The purpose of N.J.S.A. 17:12 A -49, dealing with joint accounts in savings and loan associations, is, as declared in the statute in express terms, to protect the associations and not to regulate the rights inter sese of those concerned in the accounts. Cf. Whelan v. Conroy , 126 N.J. Eq. 607 (Ch. 1940). Hence this statute, unlike certain statutes now superseded, In re Perrone's Estate , 5 N.J. 514, 527 (1950), does not raise even a rebuttable presumption of a gift. Cf. the 1954 statutes, N.J.S.A. 17:9 A -216 to 17:9 A -218, 46:37-1 and 46:37-2.

The issues before us turn then upon the common law. Under the common law of New Jersey the inquiry is simply this, was there a gift inter vivos. That inquiry calls for a determination whether here there has been made out the significant elements of a gift, namely, donative intention, delivery and relinquishment of dominion.

First as to the matter of intention. Apart from any statute, where an account, such as this, stands in the names of an alleged donor and another person as joint tenants with right of survivorship, a presumption arises that the donor intended to make a present gift to the other person. Rush v. Rush , 138 N.J. Eq. 611, 615 (E. & A. 1946); Stiles v. Newschwander , 140 N.J. Eq. 591, 594 (E. & A. 1947); Farris v. Farris Engineering Corp. , 7 N.J. 487, 502 (1951).

That presumption not only is not rebutted, but on the contrary is very substantially buttressed by the proofs. At the time decedent had Mrs. Cziger sign the signature cards, he showed her the passbooks and said to her, the money "is in both our names. It belongs to us"; "the survivor is going to get it."

It may be noticed, too, that the money constituted a part of the proceeds received from a tavern in which they worked together during nearly all the 21 years of their married life and which was sold when illness forced them to retire. Indeed, although the tavern business belonged solely to the decedent, the property on which it stood belonged to them both as tenants by the entireties. An additional $6,000 of these proceeds was paid in the form of a bond and mortgage expressly made in their favor "jointly."

There are other proofs demonstrating an intention on the part of Cziger to give to his wife a present interest in the savings and loan accounts, but the point is so sufficiently made out that we find it unnecessary to deal further with it.

That takes us to the remaining points -- delivery and relinquishment of dominion. Here the passbooks, when issued, were placed by the alleged donor in the hands of his wife for her to read, and then put in the dining room table drawer to which she had the key. They remained there

about a month. We need not stop to consider whether this control by her for a month will, without more, make out the gift. Cf. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. Woolf , 136 N.J. Eq. 588, 593 (Ch. 1945), affirmed 138 N.J. Eq. 450, 452 (E. & A. 1946); Matthews v. Hoagland , 48 N.J. Eq. 455, 485 (Ch. 1891); Corle v. Monkhouse , 50 N.J. Eq. 537, 546 (Ch. 1892); Parker v. Copland , 70 N.J. Eq. 685 (E. & A. 1906). For the remaining circumstances do not, in our view, stand in the way of a like conclusion.

After the books had been in the drawer a month, the decedent, in the interests of safety, proposed to put them in a safe deposit box in his name. To this his wife assented; and for the next six months until his death, they were kept in that box along with other valuable papers, hers as well as his, including not only five policies on her own life, ...


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