In most cases, banks offer two types of joint bank accounts -- joint tenants with right of survivorship or tenancy in common. If an owner passes with a right of survivorship account, the surviving account owner automatically gains control of the money in the account without probate and the need to declare assets. If an owner dies with a tenancy in common account, the money passes to the decedent's estate and distributed according to the will. During this time, the surviving account owner has the right to declare assets, or claim his portion of the funds in the account.
Inform the bank that the joint owner has passed away.
Ask a bank representative whether the joint account includes right of survivorship or is a tenancy in common account. If the account includes right of survivorship, you can continue to withdraw money from the account. If the account is a tenancy in common account, the bank has to follow state probate procedure.
Request a copy of the decedent's death certificate from your state's vital record agency or your local circuit court. If you're not a relative, the personal representative or the estate executor, you'll have to request a copy from someone who is.
Provide the bank with the copy of the death certificate to remove the joint owner from the account. If the account was a tenancy in common account, the bank or executor might freeze the account until the money goes through probate. Some banks allow the surviving account owner to continue withdrawing money on a tenancy in common account, but if the survivor withdraws more than his own portion, he will owe the balance to the decedent's estate. The probate court will typically grant you half of the remaining funds in the account, depending on state procedure.
- Right of survivorship trumps a will, which means if cash included in the decedent's will is also included in the joint account, the surviving account owner, rather than the designated beneficiary, will receive the money.
Angela M. Wheeland specializes in topics related to taxation, technology, gaming and criminal law. She has contributed to several websites and serves as the lead content editor for a construction-related website. Wheeland holds an Associate of Arts in accounting and criminal justice. She has owned and operated her own income tax-preparation business since 2006.