When a person dies, arrangements are made for the person's funeral and to handle the person's affairs. If the decedent wrote a will, most of his property will be distributed according to its terms. Some property transfers to heirs without the need for a will or other form of instruction. Joint bank accounts typically transfer automatically upon death.
Probate Property and Nonprobate Property
How property transfers upon death depends on whether it is classified as probate property or nonprobate property. A will controls the distribution of probate property. According to the Law Offices of Benjamin F. Farrah, probate property is generally everything that is not nonprobate property. Nonprobate property generally includes property owned jointly, such as jointly held real estate or joint bank accounts.
Joint Bank Accounts and Death
When one owner on a joint bank account dies, the account typically transfers to the other owner listed on the account. According to FinancialWeb.com, the specifics may turn on whether the joint account is a joint account with the right of survivorship or not. A person should check with her bank to determine the exact treatment of the joint account when one owner dies.
Advantages of Nonprobate Property
Having a joint account that transfers automatically on death or holding other forms of nonprobate property can be advantageous for a person's heirs and beneficiaries. Nonprobate property transfers automatically, so there is no reason to petition the probate court, unless some disagreement arises. This can save time and money.
If a person has a large sum of money in a bank account owned solely by himself, the account is probate property. Upon the person's death, it will either pass to someone named in his will or, if the person did not have a will, the state's succession statute will dictate who gets the money in the account. In contrast, a jointly held account with the right of survivorship will pass automatically to the other owner.