Considering joint and sole accounts following your death

Rebekah Banks – Stamford Bridge
 20 Aug 2019

Should you have a joint bank account with your spouse/partner or keep your own sole account?

There is no right or wrong answer to the above question and it may not be something you consider at all when making your Will.

Frequently, spouses/partners choose to maintain sole bank accounts for many reasons such as independence or convenience and it is not unusual for only one person to pay all of the monthly expenses from their sole account and/or manage the finances on a day to day basis.

Usually, spouses/partners choose to leave all of their Estate (including bank accounts, investments etc.) under the terms of their Will, to the surviving spouse/partner. This is usually with the expectation that they will be financially secure and able to continue living a standard of life which they enjoyed prior to their spouse/partner’s passing.

Problems can often occur when the first to die has been the one to manage the finances through a sole account (and which worked perfectly fine during their lifetime) and no joint account was maintained; the survivor can often be left with little or no financial means if all of the funds are held in the deceased’s sole accounts, until such time as the Grant of Probate has been extracted.

This is because only joint bank accounts pass automatically to the surviving joint owner on death (and separate to the wishes in the Will); this means the surviving joint owner has access to all funds in the joint account immediately.  All other accounts and investments held in the deceased’s sole name will pass in accordance with the terms of their Will. Although their spouse/partner is entitled to the funds as the beneficiary, there is often a rather lengthy period of time between the date of death and extracting the Grant of Probate, which permits the Executor to close/transfer the deceased’s accounts.

It is advisable to consider your financial arrangements prior to making your Will to ensure that your surviving spouse/partner is able to meet all financial commitments immediately after your death.

It may be beneficial to consider having a joint account whereby monies are readily accessible for the survivor immediately after your death. This can avoid any unnecessary distress and worry in the intermediate period. It is currently taking the Probate Registry anything from 8 – 12 weeks to process applications for Grant of Probate and so this is quite a length of time for one to be left with no financial means.

As a side note, you may also want to consider having all of the main direct debits set up from a joint account so as to avoid the lengthy process associated with closing the utility accounts, transferring and setting up new direct debits from the survivor’s account.

This does not mean that you should not have accounts in your sole name but perhaps consider whether you or your spouse/partner would be able to manage financially on your or their own means/income until such time as they are legally able to access funds in the sole account(s).