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Sorting out joint account after one dies

Dear Dr. Don,
If person A has a joint savings account with person B, and person A passes away, does that account automatically go to person B? The account was not a joint survivorship account. Person A died without a will and did not make provisions for their funeral expenses. Can the administrator of the estate use some of the funds in that account for funeral expenses and any unpaid bills due? After these expenses are paid, does the balance go to person B or the estate?
Thank you for your help.
-- Sherman Shares

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Dear Sherman,
My editor and I would like to remind you that I'm not an attorney and cannot provide you, or person B, with legal advice. Since the joint account was not one with rights of survivorship the account probably has the account owners registered as "tenants in common," and the estate of the decedent maintains an ownership interest in the account up to the degree or level of the decedent's contribution to the account. When a person dies without a will, it is called dying intestate, and state law determines how the assets in the estate are distributed. A CCH Web page allows you to see the intestate rules in different states.

Person B should talk to the bank and discuss the account. If he is on the account as a matter of convenience, then it is likely that B only had the right to perform transactions on A's behalf while A was alive. If both A and B shared ownership interest in the account then it could become important to show how the account was funded.

In general terms, since there is no right of survivorship and the account is not a payable-on-death account, the estate has an interest in the account and would use that interest to pay claims on the estate and, absent that, pay out its pro-rata share to inheritors under the applicable state intestate law.

Bankrate.com's corrections policy-- Posted: Oct. 24, 2005
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