Prompted by a community discussion, yesterday we asked Australia’s four big banks, ANZ, CBA, NAB and Westpac: “I’ve been told that if I have a joint bank account and my partner dies, the account will be frozen and I won’t be able to access my own funds. Is this true?”
It’s an important question. When our partner dies, it’s a bad enough time, without the added turmoil of not being able to access our own cash.
So is your joint account “both to sign” or “anyone to sign”? It could make a big difference to how you access that joint account when your partner dies.
Here are the answers.
NAB does not freeze joint deposit/transactional accounts upon notification that one party has passed away. Upon receiving proof of death, accounts that are jointly held will be transferred into the surviving customer’s sole name.
In the case of home loans, NAB does block limit increases and redraw facilities for a joint home loan due to responsible lending requirements. However, we will guide the surviving party to review the loan for serviceability as a sole owner, and support them through the transfer of loan and title where applicable.
Additionally, for credit cards (where the deceased is the primary customer) any additional cardholders linked to these credit cards are blocked as credit card accounts are not opened as joint accounts.
But if I were you, I’d check how long the transfer takes. If it happens immediately that’s great. But what if this is stretched out? And what complications might slow it down? Ask your bank manager now before you need to know.
NAB has further information at: https://www.nab.com.au/personal/life-moments/unplanned/losing-loved-ones/first-steps
I’d say the same about Westpac’s response. Again, have a chat with the bank before you get into the situation. Get your bank manager or personal banker to explain the expected timeframes. This is what they said:
“Joint accounts will be transferred into the name of the other joint account holder(s) once we’ve received a certified copy of the Doctor’s Death Certificate. On joint accounts where the account can be operated by either party independently, the surviving account holder will not need to be formally identified in order to access funds from their joint account(s).”
So how quickly can you get access to the death certificate? For all banks this will make a difference to the speed. For more from Westpac, go to:
Joint bank accounts continue as normal including if you’re now the only signatory on an account where the method of operation was ‘both to sign’.
No change is required unless you’d prefer the account be amended so it’s only in the surviving account holder’s name (bear in mind you’ll continue to get correspondence addressed to your loved one if you choose not to amend it).
That last comment is a good point. But I asked for a further explanation of ‘both to sign’. After all, if this is just one of the styles of joint account and the outcome can be different depending on which one you have, maybe consumers need to know all the different types. This was the futher response:
“Both to sign is an option that requires each account holder to give permission for transactions. Alternatively, account holders can have full authority to manage the account.”
So does that mean the joint bank account is frozen or not? I might have spent too much time around lawyers but that answer sounded ambiguous to me, that is, it all depends on how you both set your account up. So again, this is something you’d be wise to check.
When I raised this, they replied:
We follow all procedures as required by the law and in line with standard industry practice however if you need to find out more about the process or the legal side of things I would suggest you speak to a legal expert.
Customers who wish to find out about their specific scenarios need to do so by contacting the bank. We don’t generally comment on specific customer scenarios, as you can appreciate customer circumstances can vary.
So in a nutshell, don’t assume anything. Your bank will manage each case individually. Again, If this is the case, it’s worth getting in touch with your bank now, while you are both fit and well. And I hope you don’t need the expense of a lawyer to get to the bottom of it.
For more on CBA’s position go to: https://www.commbank.com.au/support/deceased-estates.html
Ah hah – this answer was really helpful it’s all about ‘anyone to sign’ vs ‘both to sign’. I suspect this is the same for all the banks too.
· If the account has ‘anyone to sign’ controls in place, the surviving customer will have full access to the account. The surviving customer will need to provide ANZ’s deceased estate team with the death certificate of the customer who has passed away and they will then remove that customer from the account.
· If the account has ‘both to sign’ controls in place, the surviving customer will not have immediate access to the account. The surviving member of the joint account will need to provide ANZ’s deceased estates team with a death certificate. Once ANZ receives the death certificate of the customer who has passed away, ANZ will remove this customer from the account and change the signing authority on the account, which will provide the surviving customer with full access to the account.
· If customers wish to request a change to the signing authorities on their account, all account holders need to call our contact centre on 1800 237 170 or visit an ANZ branch.
So remember the key words: ‘both to sign’ or ‘anyone to sign’
Financial advisers can help you with this tricky topic. See the article by one of our sponsors, Rachel O’Connor of Flourix Wealth, at: https://good-grief.com.au/sponsored-article-when-tragedy-strikes-its-never-part-of-our-plan/