Joint bank accounts & probate

Written by scott yoder
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Joint bank accounts & probate
Joint accounts can help avoid the need for probate. (courthouse image by Ben Twist from Fotolia.com)

One of main reasons to have a joint bank account is to avoid the need to go to probate court. With a joint bank account, when one person dies, assets automatically go to the survivor. A joint bank account creates joint tenancy, where the account or title indicates how to transfer assets without further paperwork. Probate court is an expensive and difficult way of dealing with assets after a death, so joint tenancy is used to avoid it.

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Joint Bank Accounts

A joint bank account gives everyone named on the account unlimited access to all funds, no matter who deposited them. Withdrawals can be made freely without the permission of the other person on the account. Joint accounts are typically used by married couples who combine their finances. If one person dies, the account transfers to the survivor without the need to go to probate court.

Probate Court

Probate is a court proceeding where the assets of a deceased person are evaluated and distributed. Probate court is used when there is a legal disagreement about where assets should go. When people who share assets set-up joint tenancy with something like a joint bank account, probate court will not be required to pass the assets.

Benefits

A joint bank account is a common sense approach to asset management because the account is passed onto the person who has a clear right to it. It is an extension of a marital or family relationship and avoids the need for a costly and time consuming legal proceeding like probate court (Reference 2).

Features

A joint bank account is a type of joint tenancy that automatically creates a legal agreement that circumvents the need for probate. No other paper work or legal documents are required.

Warning

It is not advisable for elderly people to create joint bank accounts with someone just to avoid probate. While this is a convenience, it also means the new account member has total access to funds, which become subject to any financial obligations related to something like a lawsuit or divorce--which could ultimately end up in probate. To give someone the authority to use money, a power of attorney document is recommend.

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