If you're newly engaged or have recently been married, congratulations are in order. Marriage is not only the union of two life partners, it's a union of finances as well. Joining the ranks of the "happily hitched" often necessitates a merging bank of accounts, too. You and your new spouse can start fresh by choosing a new bank, but selecting one with which at least one of you has an existing relationship via an individual account, can least to faster approvals. Know what to expect when choosing to convert an individual account into a joint account.
Cyberspace has afforded us conveniences that were unknown in earlier generations. One of these is online banking. Although most banks will permit customers to initiate the process of adding someone to an existing account, you will still need to have the new, prospective joint owner come into the branch to present a photo I.D. (driver's license or passport) and Social Security card. If you have recently wed, and the name of the bride has not yet been changed on these items, but she wishes to use her married name, the bank may also request to see the marriage certificate to confirm the change. Call first to be sure. By coming to the bank in person, rather than starting the process online, the process is completed more quickly.
After signing the necessary paperwork at the branch, you will be given the opportunity to reorder checks that bear the names of both parties. The new signee can be issued an individual debit card, or new debit cards can be requested showing both names on each card. If a savings account or credit card is desired, it can be requested at this time.
Most joint accounts, particularly for married couples, are designated as "joint tenancy with rights of survivorship." This means that upon the death of one partner, all assets immediately pass to the other and the account reverts to an individual account. People who marry later in life, or who enter a subsequent marriage following a divorce, have pre-existing assets, responsibilities or children/grandchildren as heirs. A joint account designated as "joint tenancy in common" is best in this case. This allows the assets of the deceased to be transferred to heirs designated in a will. This is also ideal for business partners who open a joint account.
Items you will need
- Government-issued photo I.D.
- Social security card
- Any other documents specifically requested by your bank branch
- Many couples find that the traditional approach of using one joint account is sufficient for their needs, but every situation is different. It is becoming more common for couples to have a joint account for household/family expenses, as well as individual accounts for personal use. Keep in mind that the latter will require more monthly maintenance and accounting.
- It cannot be stressed too much that sharing bank accounts requires deep commitment and complete trust. Never comingle finances casually or under duress.
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