Friday, April 10, 2015

Do You Need a Will to Transfer Your Bank Account?

Probably not, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to have one anyway.

Also, the funds in your account may not transfer to the people you think should receive that money. You should check your account agreement and ask your bank to answer any questions about where your funds will go once you have passed away.

When you die, your will can only distribute the assets that you, yourself, own. Your account agreement contains provisions that govern the extent to which any funds held in a particular bank account actually belong to you – as opposed to any other people who are also “account holders” or “authorized users,” or whatever language your financial institution may employ these days.

There are an elaborate number of different types of bank accounts - joint accounts, multi-party accounts, pay on death accounts, accounts held for the benefit of one person by another person (sometimes called a “trust account”), convenience accounts, accounts with rights of survivorship – the list can be confusing and I have found that most people don’t really know what type of bank accounts they actually have. In fact, most have never read their account agreement and didn’t keep a copy for their records.

Most likely, your account agreement also contains a “beneficiary” designation. You probably filled this out (or left it blank) on the day that you opened your bank account without even thinking about it. That named “beneficiary” is contractually entitled to receive the remaining funds in your account, directly from your financial institution, even if your will says something different. 

Basically, your last will and testament only transfers property that has not been dealt with through a separate agreement signed during your lifetime. Property such as life insurance proceeds, bank accounts, investment accounts, and similar funds almost always have a “beneficiary designation” that dictates who will receive those funds after your death, whether or not your will has been admitted to probate.

Always, always, always read the fine print when dealing with a financial institution, keep a copy of your account agreements, and double-check your beneficiary designations.

By: Cynthia W. Veidt,