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  • Writer's pictureSarah K. Lewis

Estate Planning for Banks Accounts: Do Bank Accounts Go Through Probate?

It is almost impossible not to have a bank account as an adult in the United States. Understanding your estate planning options when it comes to bank accounts is an important part of setting up a good estate plan.

Bank accounts are probate assets by default. This means that a bank account is effectively frozen when the account-holder dies, and the money in the account will not be distributed to the family until the estate has gone through the probate court process. A bank account is a probate asset even if you have a will. The probate process takes time and money, and it adds a layer of complexity for your loved ones as they settle your estate.

To avoid probate of a bank account, there are a few options:

Joint Bank Account

You can include a second person on your bank account as a joint owner of the account. The second person becomes an owner of the bank account and has the ability to do what the original owner can do: deposit money, withdraw funds, write checks, etc.

Joint bank accounts often make sense for married couples in estate planning. Both spouses can spend and manage the money in the account while they are alive. After one spouse dies, the surviving spouse remains the owner of the bank account without a need for probate.

We often caution against joint bank accounts for single people. Adding a second owner to a bank account exposes the original owner to risk. The second owner could withdraw funds for personal use, or if the second owner went through a divorce or had financial or legal trouble, money in the joint bank account could potentially be used to pay off those debts.

Payable on Death (POD) Beneficiary

You can list a Payable on Death (POD) beneficiary for your bank account. The POD beneficiary cannot access the bank account while you are alive. After you pass away, they are entitled to the money in your account without having to go through probate court to receive the funds.

Listing a POD beneficiary makes sense for single people in estate planning. You remain the sole owner of the bank account while you are alive. Your POD beneficiary’s creditors cannot access funds in your account, so you do not risk losing money if your beneficiary runs into legal or financial trouble.

To add a POD beneficiary to a bank account, contact your bank. Each bank has its own form for listing a POD beneficiary. Although you do not need an attorney to complete the POD form, we recommend that your estate planning attorney review your POD designation forms to ensure that everything is set up the way you would like it.

You can list more than one POD beneficiary for a bank account. For example, if you would like to leave the funds in your bank account to your three adult children, you can designate all three children as POD beneficiaries.

Transfer Bank Account Into Trust

You can transfer your bank account into your trust. For this option, you need to work with an estate planning attorney to create a trust. Trusts come in many different forms—revocable living trusts, irrevocable trusts, Medicaid asset protection trusts—and each trust has its own purpose for existing. Transferring a bank account into a trust can be a good estate planning option, depending on the nature of the trust.

Estate planning for bank accounts can be complex. It is best to consult with an estate planning attorney in your area before adding new account owners or beneficiaries to a bank account. For estate planning in Northeast Ohio, Lewis Legal, LLC is here to help.

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