Spousal death, accounts in deceased persons name.

UPDATED: Oct 1, 2022

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Spousal death, accounts in deceased persons name.

If one spouse dies and the bank accounts are in that
spouses name. How does the living spouse gain access to
these accounts? The cars were also in the deceased
spouses name and they were living together at the time of
his death. The funeral home home is looking for payment.
Does this have to go through MA Probate Court? Do adult
children from a previous marriage have a stake in any of
this mess?

Asked on July 19, 2018 under Estate Planning, Massachusetts


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

If the surviving spouse gets authority from the court to act as the executor (if there was a will naming him/her as executor) or the personal representative (if there was no will) of the estate, he or she can use that authority (often contained in what are commonly called "letters testimentary") to open up a bank account for estate and place the deceased's money into that account. The estate account can then be used to pay debts of the estate, final expenses of the deceased, and the costs to maintain estate assets (e.g. to keep up  a house being inherited and prevent it from going into foreclosure)--but not for the purely personal bills of the surviving spouse. Ultimately, to distribute the money to whomever will inherit under the terms of a will (if there is one) or intestate succession (rules for who gets what when there is no will), the estate will have to be probated.

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