My Partner Died. Can I Keep Our Joint Bank Account?

Our editor-in-chief gives her two cents on joint accounts after a spouse dies

Headshot of Kristin Myers between illustrations of people.

Dear Kristin,

My spouse passed away and we had a joint bank account. Is it illegal or wrong to just keep our joint account as my main bank account?

Sincerely, 

Joint Accounts Live On (JALO)

Dear JALO,

My condolences on the passing of your spouse. I know that this time can be an emotional and difficult one, and I hope you are receiving all the support you need. To answer your question, I would say no… not necessarily. Broadly speaking, if the joint account has “right of survivorship,” (and many do) as the survivor of the other account holder, all the funds pass to you, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). At that point, the funds and account are yours and you can do whatever you want with them. If you want to use that account as your main bank account, there is nothing wrong with that. 

But I say “not necessarily” because it isn’t always that simple. Different states have different rules. For example, in New York, joint bank accounts must clearly name someone to receive the funds so the money goes where it was intended. You should also consider if your spouse has a will, or if there are children or other family members who may have a claim to their estate. You’ll also want to consider any debts that your spouse’s estate might have to pay. When you have a joint bank account, you share all liabilities with the other account owner, which means that even if the money in the account was yours, other people (or organizations) could have some claims to the funds. 

I suggest consulting with an estate lawyer before you decide to make this your primary account, not just to protect yourself (and your money) from future claims, but also to make sure you're not denying your partner’s heirs the money that was left to them. You asked if it was “wrong” to make this your primary account, which makes me wonder if perhaps you are having a moral dilemma about keeping the money from people your spouse might have wanted to give it to. Assuming that you have a green light from an estate attorney, and no one else has a claim to the money in the account, I see no reason why you can’t use this as your primary bank account.

Good luck, and my condolences.

-Kristin

If you have questions about money, Kristin is here to help. Submit an anonymous question and she may answer it in a future column.

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Sources
The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “I Have a Joint Account With Someone Who Died. What Happens Now?

  2. The New York State Senate. “Legislation: Article 13-E Joint Deposits and Shares.”

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