Angela C. Artherton

Caring and Client-Focused Advocacy

Who can access a bank account after the owner has died?

On Behalf of | Feb 23, 2024 | Estate Administration

If you become an estate executor, you will have the important task of safeguarding and eventually dispersing the estate assets to beneficiaries. One asset you are likely to oversee is the bank account of the decedent, provided you have the legal authority to access it.

Since other parties may have the right to withdraw from the account, you should understand the status of the account first.

Ownership arrangements

If the account is a joint bank account, it means someone else has the right to access it. Under the right of survivorship, the still-living owner may assume full possession of the account. Alternatively, the account might have a payable-on-death mechanism that pays out the account assets to an assigned beneficiary.

In these cases, the account does not go into the estate. Therefore, you will not have authority over what happens to the account.

When executors take control

If no shared ownership arrangement exists, the account will go into the estate. As executor, you will acquire control of the account, but you must make sure that you have received formal authority from the probate court to do so.

Additionally, you must have copies of the death certificate on hand to prove that the account owner is no longer alive. The bank will want legal proof that the owner has died, as well as any court documents that prove that you have authority over the account.

If the decedent wrote a will, it may clarify that any bank accounts owned by the deceased are part of the estate and no other arrangements exist. If the will does not mention the account, take the appropriate steps to confirm whether or not the account will go through probate so you know if you should oversee it.