Who receives the money from a bank account when the account holder dies? The answer depends on several factors, including the type of bank account, whether the account holder had a will, and if there is a will, what the will declares.
If your bank account is a joint account with right of survivorship, the joint account holder will own the funds that remain in the account upon your death. The joint account holder will need to present an original death certificate to the bank for access to the funds in the account. If the joint account does not have right of survivorship, the funds owned by the deceased instead pass to his estate and are distributed according to his will or by law.
Solely Owned Account, With a Will
The funds from a non-joint or individually owned bank account will pass to the estate of the person who has died and then be distributed through a will in probate. Probate is the process by which a deceased person's estate--all of his assets and liabilities--are resolved by the reading of a will and his property is distributed according to his wishes as expressed in the will. Therefore, the proceeds of an account could be distributed to individuals named in a will as part of an estate distribution.
Solely Owned Account, No Will
If the deceased does not have a will, the cash in any account will be disbursed according to the laws of the state where the person resided, or possibly where the account is located. For example, if a person has a spouse and children, they will most likely receive a share of the estate of the deceased, including any cash in solely owned bank accounts. If no will exists, the estate must be distributed through probate, or a court proceeding, which will apply the law and distribute the estate accordingly.
Estate law varies by state; countries also have varying banking laws. Who gets funds from a deceased person's bank account, in addition to the above factors, could be affected by the bank's policies and regulations, the contract signed by the deceased account holder, the taxes owed by the estate and any debts the account holder owed at his death.