Legal Q&A: How Should Your Bank Approach Contracting With Minors?

Bank policies, procedures assist in determining the risk associated with minors

By Scott Birrenkott

Q: Can Banks Contract with Minors

A: Yes, depending on policies and procedures.

WBA frequently receives questions regarding the ability of minors to enter into a contract. No rule or regulation prohibits a bank from contracting with a minor. However, a minor can escape liability under the contract. Meaning, a minor could avoid liability from a bank seeking to hold a minor accountable for terms under the contract. Thus, banks are free to enter into contracts with minors, but must decide so as a matter of risk.

The ability of a minor to escape liability or void a contract is often referred to as the doctrine of incapacity. This is a common law term, meaning, generally, a concept under the law that is derived from judicial precedent rather than statute. As such, there is no specific rule governing contracting with a minor. It also means that there is no specific point at which a minor is deemed “competent.” If a minor attempts to escape liability under contract, it would be up to the bank to attempt to enforce the contract against the minor, and up to a court to decide.

It is important to understand the theory behind the doctrine of incapacity. Generally speaking, the theory is that a minor has not developed enough to understand the significance of contracting and thus may potentially escape liability. Because it is not readily defined, a court could find that someone who has attained the age of 18, or older, still hasn’t matured enough to understand that significance and might be permitted to void the contract.

When it comes to minor accounts, WBA generally recommends that banks consider the use of a WUTMA account. A WUTMA account is created under Wisconsin’s Uniform Transfers to Minors Act, which provides certain requirements, procedures, and responsibilities. Thus, it creates a means for a bank to open an account with an understanding of what rules apply to the relationship between the minor, the adult custodian, and the bank. While WUTMA provides for this certainty, banks should be careful before opening custodial accounts that are not governed by WUTMA, as it would leave questions as to how the account would be handled.

As a result, banks must decide, as a matter of business and policy, whether they are willing to contract with minors. This includes both deposit and loan account relationships. For the above reasons, financial institutions should consult with their policies and procedures regarding contracting with minors.

For any questions on this, or other matters, you may reach WBA legal at wbalegal@wisbank.com or 608-441-1200.