If a bank account in Texas is shared by a married couple, joint bank account rules are simple. Texas is a community property state, which means both spouses own all property acquired by either during the marriage. It doesn't matter if both names are on a particular account or not -- if the funds were acquired while married, a spouse --even if their name is not on the account -- can still lay claim to the assets once the accountholder dies, or a portion of that amount in case of a divorce. For other joint accounts, funds are treated differently depending on how the account is classified according to Texas regulations.
Joint Account Holders
For joint accounts not shared by spouses -- for example, an account jointly owned by a parent and adult child that allows the offspring permission to pay bills and handle an elderly parent's finances -- the rules depend on how the account is set up.
As a general rule, joint accounts allow any account holder to deposit or withdraw funds. Most accounts are set up this way by default. However, accounts can be set up to require the signature of all parties, which are titled with an "And." For example, an account might be titled "David Jones and Mary Jones," which would mean the signature of both would be required to cash the check. This adds to the account's security -- one party can't commit fraud by draining the account by writing checks to himself. However, if the joint account also has an ATM card, there's little to prevent someone from removing funds using a PIN, since those transactions require only the card.
In a convenience account, the account ownership remains with the original owner or owners. The convenience signer has the ability to conduct transactions for the owners. However, upon the death of the owner, the assets in the account pass to the deceased's estate rather than to the convenience signer.
One common use for a convenience account is for disability planning. The owner may want someone like a trusted home-care nurse or friend to be able to pay bills and purchase needed items if he is incapacitated, but prefer that the assets be passed along to someone else after his death.
Rights of Survivorship
An account with rights of survivorship pass to the co-owner once the other owner dies. A multi-party joint account can be tricky -- while the accountholders may consider ownership rights based on individual contributions to the account -- the bank may pay any sum to any signatory on the account at any time. In many banks, joint accounts are assumed to have rights of survivorship, unless specifically designated otherwise.
Setting up a joint account with rights of survivorship may lead to unintended consequences. If you set up a joint account with one of your children to assist you with handling your finances, the assets in the account pass directly to that child when you die -- which could have the effect of giving that child a greater portion of your estate than his siblings receive.
Tenancy in Common
A joint accounts classified as tenancy in common doesn't automatically transfer to the other account holder when someone dies. Instead, the portion of the account attributable to the deceased becomes part of the estate, and can be passed to beneficiaries just like any other assets.
Payable on Death
Payable on Death accounts attempt to avoid assets being tied up in the probate process. With such an account, the owner retains the rights to the account while alive, but designates a specific beneficiary to inherit the funds when she dies. If more than one beneficiary is designated, the funds are apportioned as determined by the deceased's wishes.
Because Texas is a community property state, spouses share responsibility for each other's debt incurred during the marriage, even if only one spouse signed for it. Texas does offer more protection that some community property states for spouse's debts -- if an account is in your name only, a creditor can't garnish it to collect on a debt that's only in your spouse's name. Joint accounts offer no such protection. In those cases, a judgement against one spouse can be collected from a joint account, even if that spouse doesn't contribute anything to that account other than his name.
Spouses also share responsibility for fees and service charges on joint accounts, even if only one party agreed to them. For example, setting up overdraft protection only requires the affirmative consent of one account holder to enforce, with both parties responsible for associated charges billed to that account. Of course, it also takes only one account holder to revoke that consent and eliminate that service.
Joint accounts can lead to criminal penalties as well, if not handled appropriately. Texas bad check laws come into play if the issuer writes a check he knows to come from an account without sufficient funds, or if he fails to pay the balance within 10 days after being informed that the check was rejected. While an account-holder could credibly deny knowing a check would fail to clear if his spouse spent all the funds in the account prior to the check being issued, failure to pay the balance promptly would still subject the issuer to criminal charges if he fails to remit the funds. Both parties are responsible for any fees leveled against the account, though only the issuer would face charges in most cases.