The Law Office of Frederick R. Franke, Jr. LLC
Seldom do criminal cases help us understand the laws governing estates and trusts. Yet Wagner v. State, 445 Md. 404 (12/17/15) is one of those rare cases.
In Wagner, a father added his daughter as a “joint owner” of a multi-party account. The daughter also enjoyed a right of survivorship in the account. After being added to the account, the daughter began drawing out funds for her own purposes. When the father discovered what she was doing, he filed a criminal complaint for theft and embezzlement. He claimed that he placed his daughter on the account as a matter of convenience and that she should not have been using the funds for her own enjoyment. The daughter was tried and convicted. The daughter appealed the conviction with a simple proposition: how could she, as a joint accountholder, be guilty of theft when she was legally permitted to withdraw funds from the account without her father’s permission?
The Court of Special Appeals and the Court of Appeals disagreed and upheld the conviction. Thus, Wagner holds that a co-accountholder, who has been added to a multi-party account, can be convicted of theft and/or embezzlement if that co-accountholder was added to the account by the original accountholder for the purpose of creating a convenience account.