Can You Access The Bank Accounts Of Deceased Family Members?

naperville estate planning lawyerIf your family member passes away but has no legal documents explaining who should receive what assets and only had their own name on the bank accounts, what happens to the funds in the accounts? What legal action can you take at this point?

Questions like these are vital to consider. When an individual does not have any estate planning documents in place or have other individuals on their bank accounts, surviving family may be left with many more questions than answers. This is why it is so important for every adult to start thinking about estate planning and ensure their family will have access to what they need.

What Happens When Someone Dies and is the Sole Owner of Their Bank Accounts?

If a relative is a sole owner of a bank account,  the account will likely be closed upon their death. The bank may require a certified death certificate in order to close the account and distribute the funds. If the account is a joint account with another individual, then typically, the other individual on the account will be able to continue using it.

Banks allow customers to name a beneficiary using a “payable on death” or “transferable on death” account.  This means that when the account holder dies, the money in the account will automatically transfer to the named beneficiary without having to go through probate.

However, if no such beneficiary is named, the process is longer and more complicated. If the deceased person had not named the executor of their estate because they did not have a will, the court will appoint an individual to act as the estate representative during probate. A surviving spouse is usually the first choice. If there is no spouse, the decedent’s children, grandchildren, parents, or siblings are next in line.

The best way to avoid any issues with accessing the bank accounts of deceased family members is to have a clear and up-to-date estate plan in place. This includes designating an executor for your estate, as well as having other individuals on your accounts as joint owners or beneficiaries.

How Can I Access a Deceased Person’s Bank Account?

The executor or administrator of a deceased person’s estate uses the funds in the decedent’s accounts to pay the estate’s creditors and then distributes the money according to intestate law (or the person’s will if he or she had a will). If you are the executor or administrator of a deceased person’s estate and you need to access their bank account, you may need to provide the bank with:

  • The death certificate of the account holder
  • A copy of the Letters Testamentary or Letters of Administration
  • Your government-issued identification
  • The Social Security number of the deceased

It is important to keep in mind that any money in the deceased person’s bank account is considered part of their estate and must go through probate before it can be distributed to beneficiaries.

Call our Naperville Estate Planning Lawyers for Help

It is important for you and your family members to address estate planning issues like bank account access in advance of any health issues. The more you plan now, the easier things will be for your loved ones if you pass away. Call the Gierach Law Firm to get the estate planning help you need. Call our Naperville estate planning lawyers today at 630-756-1160 to schedule a consultation.


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Illinois Probate Act of 1975

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Please note: These blogs have been created over a period of time and laws and information can change. For the most current information on a topic you are interested in please seek proper legal counsel.

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