Joint accounts: if one of us dies, can the other access the money?

Q&A: Joint accounts can be held in different ways and for different purposes writes Dominic Coyle

Bank of Ireland says that it will change the name of the account to the name of the remaining account holder(s), once they receive a death certificate.

Bank of Ireland says that it will change the name of the account to the name of the remaining account holder(s), once they receive a death certificate.

 

All our accounts (current and deposit) are in our joint names in Bank of Ireland. If one of us dies, does the remaining person have full and automatic access too our current and deposit accounts?

Mr J.M., Dublin

Joint accounts can be funny things but, for your peace of mind, the important thing is to be assured that between spouses, the surviving spouse will continue to have access to any joint accounts at Bank of Ireland – unless you have previously indicated otherwise.

In fact, access to funds at precisely such a time is one of the major advantages of joint accounts for a couple, especially as many of us have direct debits for utilities and other items coming out of them. Having to set such payments up again from scratch while grieving is exactly the sort of stress one wants to avoid.

Bank of Ireland says that it will change the name of the account to the name of the remaining account holder(s), once they receive a death certificate. In common with most banks, they have a department dedicated to dealing with accounts of people who have died.

But what about that caveat in my opening sentence?

Joint accounts can be held in different ways and for different purposes. For instance, it is not unusual for an older person to add the name of a child to an account for ease of access if they find themselves becoming less mobile.

This is less essential these days as we all become more familiar with online banking but it remains the case that many older people are not comfortable with the concept of banking online.

In those cases, almost always there is no intention that the younger signatory has ownership of the assets in the account, only that they have access to them for the benefit of the original signatory. In the event that the older signatory dies, the bank would in these circumstances likely freeze the account.

It is not impossible that the same arrangement would happen between spouses – especially where all the money in the account(s) has been paid in by only one of two or more signatories – but it is very unlikely.

And while the law can be very picky in this area, all the banks are quite clear that they will consider a spouse to be automatically entitled to full access and ownership of the funds under a legal construct called “survivorship” unless they have specific evidence to the contrary.

And the only way they would have such evidence in your case is if you had made clear to the bank expressly that one or other of you was the beneficial owner of all the funds in the accounts. Given how you’ve framed your question, that’s not likely.

Some of the banks do have added checks if there is more than a set sum in the deposit account(s) – generally €50,000. AIB, for instance, appears happy to take your word that you’re married for sums under that but requires a marriage or civil partnership certificate – or confirmation from a solicitor – for sums above that threshold.

Please send your queries to Dominic Coyle, Q&A, The Irish Times, 24-28 Tara Street, Dublin 2, or email dcoyle@irishtimes.com. This column is a reader service and is not intended to replace professional advice. No personal correspondence will be entered into.

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