What Happens to Your Bank Accounts After the Death of Your Spouse?

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It’s important to understand what happens to your spouse’s bank accounts in the event of their death. According to a 2017 survey1, 77 percent of couples say they shared at least one bank account. So, what exactly happens to your bank accounts after the death of your spouse? We’ll start with what you need to know for a joint bank account. 

What should you do if you and your spouse have joint bank accounts?
Many couples share one account. These joint bank accounts are useful when you want to share your finances with someone. And in the event of your spouse’s death, you’ll continue to have access to those funds. Although it may be a tough step to remove your spouse’s name from your account, you can do this by presenting their death certificate to your bank. You’ll need to speak to your bank about their specific rules.

What should you do if you and your spouse have individual bank accounts?

There are a few ways to gain access to individual bank accounts in the event of a spouse’s death.

  • A common practice is to have a “payable-on-death” beneficiary listed on individual accounts, which you can do by contacting your bank. In the event of the account owner’s death, the beneficiary (your designated family member or loved one) will receive the amount left in the account. You can have more than one beneficiary listed. Make sure you and your spouse discuss this to ensure that the correct names are listed on your accounts.
  •  If you aren’t a listed beneficiary, you’ll need to get permission from a probate court judge to access your spouse’s bank accounts. Probate is the official process of distributing your assets in court. Since this is a legal matter, you may need the help of a probate attorney.
  •  If you aren’t the payable-on-death beneficiary, but you have power of attorney, you have a couple of options to continue to have access to your spouse’s bank accounts:
    • Present a death certificate and a notarized affidavit of assumption of duties.
    • Or, the bank may allow the executor of a will to gain access to it.

If either of those options aren’t available, you may have to get permission from a probate court judge. Talk to a probate attorney to learn more about the probate process and what options you have.

How can you best prepare your personal bank accounts?
If you have your own personal accounts, be sure to contact your bank and name a payable-on-death beneficiary. This way, you know the most important people in your life may have some financial security.

Knowing how your bank accounts are handled in the event of the death of you or your spouse will help ensure that you leave your loved ones with some financial peace of mind.

1 Bankrate (May 15, 2017). Web page: Ready for romance? A low credit score could mean dating difficulties. Retrieved April 23, 2018 from https://www.bankrate.com/personal-finance/credit/money-pulse-0517/. 

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