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How to Access Bank Accounts after Death?

Death is a topic that most people would rather not think about. However, it is an inevitable part of life, and it is important to plan for what happens to our assets after we pass away. Part of this planning involves understanding what happens to bank accounts after death.

Whether you die with or without a will, your bank accounts will be subject to certain legal procedures. In this article, we will explore these procedures and the steps that your loved ones will need to take to access your bank accounts. We will also discuss some important points to note to ensure that the process is smooth and lawful.

Death Without a Will

If you die without a will, you are said to have died intestate. In this case, the process of accessing your bank accounts will depend on the Intestate Succession Act.

The first step is to apply for a grant of letters of administration. This is a legal document that gives a personal representative the authority to deal with the deceased’s estate. The personal representative is usually a close family member, such as a spouse or child.

The Intestate Succession Act determines the distribution of assets, including bank accounts, when the deceased has not left a will. The distribution is based on a set of rules that prioritize the deceased’s surviving spouse and children. If there is no surviving spouse or children, the assets will pass to the deceased’s parents, siblings, or other relatives.

To access a deceased person’s bank account in this situation, the personal representative will need to provide the bank with the grant of letters of administration, along with identification documents and the deceased’s death certificate. The bank will freeze the account until the personal representative has been authorized to deal with it.

Death with a Will

If you die with a will, the process of accessing your bank accounts will be different. The will must be submitted to the court to obtain a Grant of Probate. The executor named in the will is responsible for distributing the assets, including bank accounts, according to the instructions in the will.

The executor will need to provide the bank with a certified copy of the Grant of Probate, along with identification documents and the deceased’s death certificate. The bank will freeze the account until the executor has been authorized to deal with it.

Bank Account Freeze and Settlement

When a bank receives notification of a customer’s death, it will freeze the customer’s accounts to prevent unauthorized access. The bank will also stop any GIRO deductions or other automatic payments from the account.

To settle the deceased’s bank accounts, the legal representative of the deceased or the surviving joint account holders can approach the bank to close the account(s). The bank will require a certified copy of the Grant of Probate or the grant of letters of administration, identification documents, and the deceased’s death certificate.

For a deceased person’s single account, the bank will release the funds to the estate of the deceased. For a joint account, the surviving joint account holder may be entitled to the account balance, depending on how the account is structured. If the account is structured as a pledge joint account, where both holders have equal rights to the account, the surviving joint account holder will be entitled to the account balance. If the account is structured as a trust account, where one holder has control over the account, the surviving joint account holder may not be entitled to the account balance.

If the deceased person had a fixed deposit or savings account, the legal representative or surviving joint account holder will need to provide additional documents, such as an indemnity form or a commissioner of oath or notary public certification.

Points to Note

There are some important points to note when dealing with a deceased person’s bank accounts.

Firstly, it is common practice for the surviving family members to withdraw money from the deceased person’s ATM to settle immediate estate needs. However, this is not a lawful practice, and the family members may be liable for any unauthorized withdrawals.

Secondly, before distributing the assets, the legal representative or surviving joint account holder should conduct a bankruptcy search to ensure that there are no outstanding debts. If there are outstanding debts, the estate may need to be settled with the creditors before distributing the assets.

Lastly, if the deceased person had a joint account, it is important to note that the surviving joint account holder may not always be entitled to the account balance. This will depend on how the account is structured, as explained earlier in this article.

Conclusion

In conclusion, understanding what happens to bank accounts after death is an important part of estate planning. If you die without a will, the process of accessing your bank accounts will depend on the Intestate Succession Act. If you die with a will, the executor named in the will is responsible for distributing the assets, including bank accounts. When settling a deceased person’s bank accounts, the legal representative or surviving joint account holder will need to provide the bank with the necessary documents, and they should also be aware of some important points to ensure that the process is smooth and lawful. Planning ahead and seeking legal advice can help ensure that your loved ones can access your bank accounts with ease when the time comes.