How to Close a Bank Account When Someone Dies
When a close friend or family member dies, there are a lot of loose ends that you may be responsible for resolving. One of those may be closing their bank accounts (such as checking, savings, CDs, etc.), especially if those funds are needed to pay funeral expenses or to settle the deceased's outstanding debts. Closing a bank account under these circumstances is not always a straightforward process, but with the right documentation it can be.
To close a bank account on behalf of someone who has passed away, you must have legal authority to manage the account. For example, are you a joint owner of the account? Or have you been granted authority by a court or judge and have the proper paperwork (such as a Letter of Testamentary, discussed in more detail below) to prove that you have authority to access the account? Here's an overview of the documentation you'll need to close a bank account after a loved one dies.
Documentation you'll need
1. Basic identification & documentation
- Your valid ID, such as a state-issued driver's license or ID card, U.S. passport, or military ID.
- Proof of death, such as certified copies of the death certificate.
- Documentation about the account and its owner, including the deceased's full legal name, Social Security number, and the bank account number.
Tip: Order several certified copies of the death certificate. You'll need to provide them to banks, insurance companies, creditors, etc.
2. Proof that you can act on behalf of the estate
You'll also need proof that you have the authority to act on behalf of the estate. The documentation you need depends on your legal relationship to the deceased, such as in the scenarios outlined below.
- If you are a joint owner of the account: As a joint owner of the account, closing the account should be fairly straightforward. That's because most banks require that joint accounts be established as Joint with Rights of Survivorship (JWROS),1 meaning when one co-owner dies, the other automatically become the sole owner of the account.
Sometimes a bank may set up a checking account as Payable-on-death (POD).2 For this type of account, the owner designates a beneficiary who will inherit any money in the account after death. The beneficiary is not entitled to money in the account while the owner is alive, but automatically becomes the owner of the account upon the original owner's death.
In these cases, simply visit the bank with a valid ID and a certified copy of the death certificate. You will then have access to the account, allowing you to withdraw the funds as needed.
- If you have power of attorney: Power of attorney (POA) gives someone temporary or permanent legal authority to make decisions on behalf of another adult, such as an aging parent or loved one. For example, a father diagnosed with Alzheimer's may give his adult daughter power of attorney to make financial decisions for him in the event that he cannot.
POAs are important tools, but they cannot be used to close a bank account after someone passes away for the simple reason that a POA expires once the principal (the person granting authority to another) dies.3
To handle financial affairs after death, the person named as Power of Attorney will either need to be named as executor of the estate or petition to become administrator of the estate.
- If you are a trustee of the deceased: If your loved one set up a living trust, the checking account may be held in the name of the trust. If you are named as the successor trustee (the person who assumes control of the trust after the initial trustee dies), you should notify the bank that the initial trustee has died. You will also need to provide a certified copy of the death certificate. The bank will also need to see a copy of the Certificate of Trust naming the successor trustee, and the bank will have some forms that need to be filled out.
- If you are the executor: Single-holder accounts are more difficult to close than joint accounts or those held in the name of a trust. Legally, only the owner has legal access to the funds, even after death. A court must grant someone else the power to withdraw money and close the account.
If you are named as an executor in the deceased's will, you must produce proof of your executor status and provide a certified copy of the death certificate before the bank will provide access to the account.
- If there's no will or no executor named in the will: If there is no will or the person who should handle the estate is not named in the will, a relative or legal representative must request permission from the probate court to close the account. If there's a will without a named executor, the court will issue a Letter of Testamentary; if there's no will, the court will issue a Letter of Administration. Present either of these letters to the bank along with the death certificate to close the account.
The death of a loved one is challenging from both an emotional and logistical perspective. As long as you have the right documentation, dealing with this aspect of a friend or family member's death doesn't have to distract you from your other responsibilities at this difficult time.
If one of those other responsibilities is dealing with your loved one's credit card debts, check out this article on what to do when a credit card holder passes away.
Important Disclosure Information
This content is general in nature and does not constitute legal, tax, accounting, financial or investment advice. You are encouraged to consult with competent legal, tax, accounting, financial or investment professionals based on your specific circumstances. We do not make any warranties as to accuracy or completeness of this information, do not endorse any third-party companies, products, or services described here, and take no liability for your use of this information.
- American Bankers Association, “Deposit Account Ownership," 2016, http://content.aba.com/textbooks/POBM2/resource/account_ownership_summary.pdf, accessed May 13, 2019. Back
- Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, “Financial Institution Employee's Guide to Deposit Insurance," https://www.fdic.gov/deposit/diguidebankers/revocable.html#pod, accessed May 13, 2019. Back
- American Bar Association, “Power of Attorney," April 01, 2019, https://www.americanbar.org/groups/real_property_trust_estate/resources/estate_planning/power_of_attorney/, accessed May 13, 2019. Back
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