Will spouses have access to joint account after one dies?

Q&A: Dominic Coyle answers your personal finance questions

Reader’s question: I have a joint account with my wife and approached AIB to query if funds might be held for legal process in the event in one of our deaths?

Reader’s question: I have a joint account with my wife and approached AIB to query if funds might be held for legal process in the event in one of our deaths?

 

You published advice recently re joint accounts for cohabitants and amounts over certain thresholds.

I have a joint account with my wife and approached AIB to query if funds might be held for legal process in the event in one of our deaths. They have advised that, as we are a “married couple”, that there is no concern and the surviving partner will be exempted from the process of probate and other legal requirements regardless of the amount. Can you confirm this is true?

Mr M McG, Galway

Joint accounts often seem like the answer for people in a range of circumstances.

Banks will, in my experience, insist on them for the payment of a mortgage, though I’ve never quite figures out why as both owners are liable for the bill anyway, regardless of which account the money comes.

When people get older, it is also often a structure used to allow a family carer help manage finances for a relative who is less mobile or physically unwell but who still has bills to meet.

Then there is the joint account between spouses for the general management of the household budget and savings, which is the arrangement you have.

In all cases, the default is that either accountholder (or potentially any of them where more than two people are involved) can sign on the account for withdrawals, lodgments, direct debits etc.

The good news for you is that, in terms of managing the situation after one of the account signatories dies, a joint account between spouses tends to be the least complex arrangement. Essentially, both of you are presumed to be the beneficial owners of the assets of the account.

In the event that either of you dies, the assets in a spousal joint account will pass to the surviving spouse under what is called “survivorship”. The other person continues to have access to the funds in the account to cover immediate needs. Accounts are not frozen in these circumstances.

As a matter of course, you will need eventually to make sure the bank has a copy of the relevant death certificate and it will then arrange for the account to be converted into the sole name of the survivor.

If everything passes between you in the event of one of you dying, there will be no need for probate, as the bank has told you.

Send your queries to Dominic Coyle, Q&A, The Irish Times, 24-28 Tara Street, Dublin 2, or by email to dcoyle@irishtimes.com. This column is a reader service and is not intended to replace professional advice

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