How to handle a joint account of a brotherand sister if one party died and there is no Will?

UPDATED: Jan 19, 2011

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How to handle a joint account of a brotherand sister if one party died and there is no Will?

Sister has joint banking accounts with brother who just recently is deceased. The brother has no Will but has surviving children who are not on his banking accounts. How can the sister handle the accounts without his children trying to contest the accounts and having them frozen? The sister plans on using the funds in the accounts to pay the outstanding bills for the deceased. Once the bills have all been paid, does the sister have the right to all of the remaining funds? Will the surviving children have any rights to these funds?

Asked on January 19, 2011 under Estate Planning, Texas


M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 12 years ago | Contributor

If she is listed on the accounts as a joint account holder "with rights of survivorship" then she, and she alone, is entitled to the accounts.  By operation of law she became the legal owner of them at the time that the other account holder died.  This is true whether or not there was a Will because such assets pass outside of the probate estate.  You'll need to check what the sognature card of the account says about survivorship.

If no such right of survivorship was designated, then things are different.  When someone dies without at a Will they are said to have dies "intestate".  Accordingly, the laws of the state in which they were domiciled as of the date of their death will control.  Any funds in the account pass to  and be divided among the deceased's heirs (again in accordance with the intestacy statute).

Note:  In the event that the right of survivorship option is not selected on the signature card, the other account holder is not stripped of property belonging to them; they receive all of the funds that they put into the joint account, as it is their property.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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