We often provide legal advice for clients who have suffered the death of their husband or wife. Very often they will not know what to do first, and will be suffering emotional turmoil. One common question is, “how can I access my spouse’s assets, to help me pay the bills?”
A specialist family probate lawyer can help you to deal with the legal Estate of your spouse. They can help you gain access to their assets, enabling you and your family to manage their bank accounts, properties, any stocks or other assets they held, so you can distribute them to the correct beneficiaries.
This article explains the circumstances around access a bank account held solely by the person who has passed away, and where to start.
The first thing which must be done is to check if your loved one left a valid Will before they died. The first section of the article below explains what happens if there was no Will, and the second section explains what happens when a valid Will exists.
(1) An Individual Dies Without Leaving a Will
When someone dies and doesn’t leave a valid Will, then usually their next of kin (such as their husband, wife, or one of their children) needs to apply to the court to get Letters of Administration. That person then becomes the named Administrator of the Estate.
We have been practising probate law for many years, and so we can usually obtain the Letter of Administration within 6 weeks.
- At the bank
After we have submitted your probate application to the court, your Letter of Administration should arrive within 2 months. Once you have it, you (the Administrator of the Estate) need to then:
- Go to the bank
- Prove that you are the Administrator in the Will and Letter of Administration by producing your NRIC card
- Show the Letter of Administration
- Ask the bank to release the money in the deceased’s bank account to you.
Usually, the bank will issue a cheque to the Administrator made payable to “the Estate of [deceased’s name]”.
A new bank account should then be opened by the Administrator, in the name of “the Estate of [deceased’s name]”. Money belonging to the deceased’s Estate should come into or go out of this account only, to avoid it being mixed up with any of the Administrator’s own money.
- Distribution of the money
The deceased person’s assets are collected and any debts settled by the Administrator. Following this, they should then distribute the money remaining in the bank account according to the provisions of the Intestate Succession Act.
Be careful: the laws of intestacy and inheritance vary substantially depending on whether you were married, single, and had children or not. Often, your next of kin will get your property — people such as your surviving spouse, parents, brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, etc. If no relatives can be found to receive the assets, then the state will usually receive the whole Estate.
Remember: to gain access to the bank account of someone who died without leaving a valid Will, Letters of Administration must be obtained by the Administrator to make banks release monies to the Administrator. Then it can be distributed to the correct beneficiaries.
(2) An Individual Dies Leaving a Valid Will
Following the death of someone who had already made a valid Will, a court application should be made by the Executor named in the Will, for a Grant of Probate. This is a court order that is made by the Family Justice Court, confirming that the deceased’s Will was authentic. The appointed Executor should then carry out the last wishes of the deceased person, as set out in their Will.
- At the Bank, and Distributing the Money
Having obtained the Grant of Probate, the Executor should then:
- Go to the bank
- Prove that they are the named Executor in the Will and Grant of Probate by producing their NRIC card
- Show the Grant of Probate
- Tell the bank to release the money in the deceased’s bank account to them.
The process is then repeated — a cheque is issued to the Executor by the bank, in the name of the Estate. Lastly, a new bank account should be opened by the Executor, in the Estate name, and the monies distributed to the named beneficiaries set out in the Will, once all debts have been settled.
If you need any help or advice in this area of law, we would be pleased to advise you. Contact us today.