How Can I Obtain Access to a Deceased’s Bank Accounts?

How Can I Obtain Access to a Deceased’s Bank Accounts?


One of the first steps to settle a loved one’s estate is to gain access to the deceased’s bank accounts. The first thought of many family members is to present a power of attorney to the bank. However, it soon becomes apparent that a power of attorney becomes void upon death. The bank will not provide any information about the account even with a signed power of attorney.


So how can the family gain access to the account and begin using the funds?


What are the Rules for Access to Bank Accounts?


The usual purpose of a power of attorney is to allow another person to access your accounts if you become incapacitated. But upon your death, the power of attorney becomes void. It thereafter has no further value to your surviving family for access to financial accounts.


Financial institutions will only provide access to a person who has a legal right to the account. Spouses, children and other family members do not have a legal right to access a bank account merely because of their family relationship.


Account access is easy if the account is jointly titled or had a “payable on death” designation. Suppose your account was jointly with your daughter. Your daughter always has the right to access your account, both before and after your death. Similarly, if your account is not jointly titled, but had a POD designation to your daughter, your daughter would have the right to the account upon death. Presenting an original death certificate to the bank would likely suffice.


What Happens if the Account Did Not Provide Legal Access at Death?


A person must be appointed to serve as the personal representative of the deceased’s estate. This means that the probate process must be started, and the assets must pass through probate. The first step to becoming the representative is to file a petition for probate with the Register of Wills.


The person who is appointed as personal representative will be issued Letters Testamentary. The Letters can be presented to the financial institution and access will be provided.


It is important that personal representatives always keep their own personal property separate from the deceased’s property. Representatives can avoid commingling funds by opening a new bank account on behalf of the newly created estate.


As a probate law firm for estate executors, we help settle estates efficiently and reduce stress. If you know someone faced with a probate process or roadblocks to an estate property sale, please have them contact us for a free evaluation at:


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