Rights of survivorship on bank accounts

The right of survivorship defines what happens to an asset legally owned by two or more people if one of those people dies. Although there can more than two, in most cases of bank accounts, there are two account holders who are related in some way. In many cases, the bank account holders are husband and wife, although any two people can generally share an account with rights of survivorship.

What Does Right of Survivorship Mean?

Right of survivorship means that if one of the account holders dies, the surviving account holders retain ownership of all the funds in the bank account. In the case of an account owned by a mother and daughter jointly with rights of survivorship, if one person died, the other would retain the right to money in the account.

Other Types of Joint Accounts

In cases where an account is held by two people but no right of survivorship has been established, upon the death of one of the account holders, the entire account will likely end up in probate court for adjudication. Joint accounts without rights of survivorship are more common in business banking than they are in personal banking.

Requirements for Unmarried Couples

For a bank account or other property to be fully covered by the rights of survivorship in many jurisdictions, the owners must define the joint account, usually specifically referred to as a joint tenancy, in writing. However, this joint tenancy doesn't protect the shared assets from the creditors of either party either when they are both alive or after one or both have died.

Avoiding Probate

Probate is the process through which assets of a deceased person are distributed among survivors. Probate can take a long time and can involve expensive attorneys. By formally defining right of survivorship on a bank account, the assets in that account remain accessible to the other account holder, even if other assets are in probate.


Funds in a joint account with right of survivorship are not taxed as income. They are generally taxed as inheritance. To establish the taxable amount in the account, the original source of the money must be established. Only the funds deposited in the account by the deceased are considered taxable as inheritance.

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About the Author

Although he grew up in Latin America, Mr. Ma is a writer based in Denver. He has been writing since 1987 and has written for NPR, AP, Boeing, Ford New Holland, Microsoft, RAHCO International, Umax Data Systems and other manufacturers in Taiwan. He studied creative writing at Mankato State University in Minnesota. He speaks fluent Mandarin Chinese, English and reads Spanish.

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