Joint bank accounts are used by many married couples to simplify bill payments, withdrawals, and spending accounts. When one spouse passes away, the remaining spouse can continue using the account just like before. Because the account is set up in the name of both spouses, even if one spouse passes away, nothing usually changes for the other spouse in terms of how the account functions.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Step 1: Determine Which Type of Joint Account You Hold
- Step 2: Get a Certified Death Certificate
- Step 3: Contact the Bank
- Step 4: Remove Your Spouse’s Name
- Step 5: Open a New Account
- Step 6: Keep Track of Records
- Step 7: Avoid False Payments
- Step 8: Update Billing
Eventually, you may need to remove a deceased spouse from a bank account. Whether this is a step in the healing process, facilitated to avoid painful memories, or a necessary step in order to remarry, the process is a simple one and you can complete it in just a few steps.
Tip: Grief and the loss of a spouse are complicated. If you're dealing with the death of a spouse, our post-loss checklist may help answer some of your questions.
Step 1: Determine Which Type of Joint Account You Hold
Two types of joint accounts exist — an “and” account and an “or” account, which has to do with the way you are listed with your spouse on the account and the way your joint account works.
John Smith and Jane Smith accounts function jointly but need the signature of both account holders for any checks or withdrawals. In this case, after the death of the spouse, the spouse’s name must be removed in order for the remaining spouse to access funds in the account.
John Smith or Jane Smith accounts are typical of most joint accounts and mean that either person can withdraw funds or sign checks to remove funds from the account at any time without the other person’s permission. In this case, you can access funds even after a spouse’s death and prior to the removal of their name from the account.
Knowing which type of joint account you hold is critical for determining the timeline of your spouse’s removal from the account. If access to funds is necessary and you hold an “and” joint account, you need to follow the following steps as soon as possible. For “or” account holders, you can complete the following at leisure, since you still have access to the funds as needed.
Step 2: Get a Certified Death Certificate
The major piece of proof all banks require in order to remove someone from an account in the event of their death is a certified death certificate.
Uncertified copies of a spouse’s death certificate generally are not accepted by financial institutions, as you can easily fake these.
Ways to obtain certified copies
You can obtain a certified death certificate in two ways. One, through the funeral home or mortuary at the time of your spouse’s death. Two, by contacting your state’s Office of Vital Records. If proceeding through your state’s vital records office, you’ll need proof of your relationship to the deceased. For this, most states want you to furnish an official copy of your marriage certificate or another official document proving that you are the spouse of the deceased. Other information you’ll need to provide includes the deceased’s:
- Death date
- Cause of death
You’ll also need to provide your:
- Relationship to the deceased
- Reason for obtaining a certificate
Fee for certified copies
Expect to pay around $10 to $15 for the first copy of a certified death certificate. Some states discount additional orders of certified copies, but all charge a fee to obtain them.
Step 3: Contact the Bank
You can set up contact with the bank in order to complete the process of removing your spouse’s name from the account.
Depending on your bank, you may choose one of the following ways to communicate your needs. Any of these options can be carried out by you as part of your executor duties or as a non-executor who is simply tidying up accounts after a spouse’s death.
Call the bank
Call either your local bank branch or the main office to determine which documents and pieces of information the bank needs in order to remove your spouse’s name from the account.
Though you can find out relevant information to complete the removal process over the phone, you will need to visit with required documentation or mail in the documents, depending on your bank’s preferences and requirements.
Visit the bank
Visiting the bank might be the easiest way to complete the process of removing your spouse’s name from the account. If a bank manager is familiar with you and your spouse, set up an appointment directly with that person. Seeing a friendly face can help ease a possible painful and emotional experience.
Once at the bank, you’ll need to provide all documentation required by the bank, including copies of your spouse’s death certificate and proof of identification.
Mail the bank
If you and your spouse had a joint account at an online bank branch or a bank too far away to visit, you may have the opportunity to mail in the required documents for approval prior to removing your spouse’s name from the account.
If mailing certified documents, ask the post office to request a signature at the other end so you’re alerted when the bank office receives your package.
Step 4: Remove Your Spouse’s Name
At this point, the bank usually requires nothing more than a signature on a statement specifying that you, as the spouse of the deceased, request the removal of your spouse’s name from the joint account.
Whether this is accomplished in person or through the mail, removal typically occurs simultaneously with the bank receiving your signed statement.
Step 5: Open a New Account
Most banks request the closure of your joint account to remove the spouse’s name. If you’re already at the bank, you can complete this process in person. You can open a new account that only has your name on it. All funds from the joint account will transfer to your new account. You’ll also be issued new debit cards and a checkbook if you want it. You can withdraw funds starting immediately.
If you remove your deceased spouse’s name in order to open up a new joint account with another spouse, you can do this at the same time. Your new spouse must be with you and bring a valid form of identification to add both of your names to a new joint account. Choose whether you want an “and” account or an “or” account. Remember that any changes on an “and” account must be approved by both account holders, whereas “or” accounts can be used freely by either party.
Step 6: Keep Track of Records
Bank statements and other financial documents are essential for tax purposes. It’s critical that you keep the final bank statement for your records.
Even if you open up a new account and deposit all remaining funds into your new account, you may need the final statement for the end of year taxes, insurance purposes, or other dealings with your spouse’s estate.
Step 7: Avoid False Payments
If your spouse was collecting Social Security, he or she might have been sent a check before the Social Security Administration received notice of the death. A check might even show up in your joint account prior to closure for those who signed up for automatic deposits. Be aware that this amount should not be removed into your separate account and, in fact, should be sent back to the Social Security Administration.
Some bank accounts will freeze the amount of Social Security deposited in your deceased spouse’s name to prevent you from incorrectly withdrawing it. If this is the case, the bank will send the money back. Only after the account has been cleared will you be able to remove your spouse’s name from the account.
If you notice any other payments come through for your spouse that you’re unsure of, leave them in the account until you can square away whether it legally belongs to you.
Step 8: Update Billing
After you’ve removed your spouse’s name from the joint account, had the account closed, and opened up a new one for yourself, it’s critical to quickly update any companies that had used the former bank account for automatic bill pay. Update services like city water, sewer, and electric companies. Update gym memberships, subscriptions, and other services that automatically renew as well.
Keep in mind that service companies such as water, sewer, and electric will shut off after 60 days of non-payment. Other services, however, such as gyms, will continue to charge you even if your account bounces. Some will give you up to two months to rectify missed payments.
As opposed to common thought, many gyms and clubs won’t simply terminate your membership for non-payment. If too much time has progressed, they may send your account to collections if payments have not been brought up to date. Make a list of every bill payment connected with your joint account and call each one to update the company with correct account payment information.
Keep Accounts Up to Date
While it may be hard to do, it’s important to keep bank accounts up to date with proper information. Joint accounts with a deceased owner should be closed and a new account opened for the remaining owner.
Though some banks allow joint account holders to keep their deceased spouse’s name for as long as they like, most encourage the removal of the deceased’s name for security purposes.