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.
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 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.
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).
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.
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.
- Nolo: Avoid Probate with Joint Ownership
- Legal Services for the Elderly: The Hidden Dangers of Joint Bank Accounts
- Commonwealth of Massachusetts. "Find Out When It’s Necessary to Probate an Estate." Accessed Sept. 17, 2020.
- Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute. "Right of Survivorship." Accessed Sept. 17, 2020.
- Social Security Administration. "SI ATL01110.510 Shared Ownership." Accessed Sept. 17, 2020.
- IRS. "Frequently Asked Questions on Gift Taxes." Accessed Sept. 17, 2020.
- American Bar Association. "Estate, Gift, and GST Taxes." Accessed Sept. 17, 2020.
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