Conflict of Laws-Public Policy Used To Apply Forum Law to Joint Bank Accounts of Foreign-Domiciliaries Wyatt v. Fulrath

The Duke and Duchess of Arion, nationals and domiciliaries of Spain, neither of whom had ever been to New York, deposited community property consisting of cash and securities in several New York banks. In establishing these accounts, the Duke and Duchess either expressly agreed in writing that the New York law of survivorship would apply to their accounts or signed standard bank survivorship forms which incorporated the survivorship laws of that state. After her husband’s death, the Duchess made the entire amount on deposit in New York subject to her will. Following the Duchess’ death and during probate of her will, plaintiff, as an ancillary administrator of the Duke’s estate, arguing that Spanish community property law governed the rights to property of a husband and wife and that it prohibited the separation of marital property by means of survivorship accounts, brought suit against the Duchess’ executor to establish claim to one-half of the property in the New York accounts. The action of the Supreme Court, Special and Trial Term, in dismissing the complaint on its merits was affirmed by the Supreme Court, Appellate Division. On appeal to the New York Court of Appeals, held, affirmed, three judges dissenting. New York courts may use “public policy” as the basis for applying their own laws to property placed in New York by married foreigners who request that New York survivorship laws govern their property’s future disposition.