Does the Executor of the Will Supersede a Joint Holder on a Bank Account?

By Heather Frances J.D.

When a person dies, some of his assets – including cash – may pass to different people depending on how those assets are titled. Bank accounts are assets that can pass automatically without going through court instead of being controlled and distributed by an executor in a probate proceeding. Generally, funds in a joint bank account will pass automatically to the surviving joint owner when one joint owner dies.

Probate v. Non-Probate

A deceased person’s estate can be divided into probate assets and non-probate assets. Probate assets are those that must pass through a probate process, often court-supervised, before they can be distributed to the beneficiary. Typically, probate assets are things that were only in the deceased’s name, including vehicles, real estate or bank accounts. Non-probate assets are distributed directly to the beneficiary without having to go through probate, and these assets are usually non-probate because they have joint owners or beneficiary designations as part of the asset, such as jointly owned real estate or payable-on-death bank accounts.

Joint Bank Accounts

Joint bank accounts – or bank accounts that have more than one person’s name as the owner of the account – usually come with rights of survivorship. This means the funds in the account automatically pass to the remaining joint owner when one joint owner dies. Frequently, spouses hold joint accounts where both names are on the account, and each spouse has full abilities to access the money in the account.

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Right of Survivorship

When accounts have more than one name, the right of survivorship is presumed, meaning the account’s founding documents don’t have to specify that the surviving owner has the right of survivorship. However, presumptions can be rebutted if there was no intent for the account to include rights of survivorship. For example, if a mother adds a child to her account for her convenience so that the child can pay some of the mother’s bills, the account may not be a true joint account and may not include rights of survivorship since it seems the mother did not intend for her child to have the money in the account.

Challenging Presumptions

The person who wishes to challenge the presumption of rights of survivorship must present evidence to the probate court. The evidence must show that the surviving joint owner’s name was added to the account merely for the convenience of the deceased account holder. For example, this could include testimony that the mother told the banker or a friend that she wanted her child to be able to write checks for bills while she was in a nursing home.

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Can an Executor of a Will Have Access to Joint Bank Accounts Not Under His Name?
 

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What Is a Sole Heir & Executor?

The terms "sole heir" and "executor" are commonly used in estate planning and probate law. The sole heir of a deceased person's estate stands to inherit the whole of the estate; the executor is a person designated in a last will and testament to settle a deceased person's estate. Executors either settle a deceased person's estate outside of probate court or through the probate process.

Inheritance Rights After a Death

People's inheritance rights vary depending on the estate planning tools used by the decedent, or the person who died. Some estate planning techniques require inheritances to pass through probate courts. Estate planning can also be crafted to avoid probate court. Moreover, some people do not make any estate plans at all. In these situations, state law identifies a decedent's heirs and outlines their inheritance rights.

Transfer on Death Vs. Beneficiary

It can take years to settle a decedent’s estate through probate, and the executor usually can’t transfer any of the decedent's assets to his beneficiaries until she has addressed and resolved many other issues. This means that if you intend that your spouse should have access to your checking account after your death, she can’t access the money unless you title the account in a way that avoids probate. Otherwise, it belongs to your estate until your executor settles and closes it, and that could be a long time.

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