Many individuals – whether they are beneficiaries or estate administrators – can become frustrated with the time it takes to distribute estate assets (especially if an administration or probate application is involved). Whether an individual is reeling from a painful loss or simply stressed out about the steps involved with estate administration, they might feel the urge to cut corners or speed up the process. For instance, they might ask: why can’t I just withdraw money from the deceased’s account? 

In this blog post, we’ll cover whether you can withdraw money from a deceased person’s account and other considerations relating to bank accounts for estates. If you have any questions or concerns about these processes or require assistance with estate planning, be sure to reach out to an experienced estate lawyer for further guidance. 

Withdrawing Money from a Deceased Person’s Account in Ontario

Typically, you cannot withdraw money from a deceased person’s account without following the proper estate administration process. After a person dies, the bank will close their account, and the estate administrator will be responsible for paying debts and distributing assets from the estate (including bank account funds). 

However, be aware that different rules apply to different types of bank accounts, as follows: 

Joint Bank Accounts

If the deceased had a joint bank account (for example, with their spouse), the spouse would still be able to access and use the funds in that bank account. In fact, for joint bank accounts, the surviving joint owner of the account will be able to use all the funds in the bank account regardless of who contributed what (so if, for instance, you contributed to the account regularly while your joint owner did not, they will still be entitled to the full amount in the joint bank account). 

Remember that joint bank account holders share responsibility for the account’s debts. If, for example, the joint bank account has gone into overdraft and one of the joint bank account holders dies, the other joint bank account holder will be responsible for paying that debt. 

Bank Accounts with Beneficiaries

In some cases, you may be able to add a beneficiary to your bank account (for example, a child). Adding a beneficiary to your bank account can help your beneficiary gain access to your bank account after your death. While a beneficiary does not get access to or rights regarding your bank account while you are alive, they will be able to access your bank account after death and without waiting for the estate administration process to complete. 

Unlike joint bank account holders, the beneficiary of a bank account is not responsible for the deceased’s debts. If, for example, the deceased’s account has gone into overdraft, this simply means that the beneficiary will not receive any funds from the bank account. 

TFSAs and RRSPs

Registered bank accounts, like Tax-Free Savings Accounts (TFSAs) and Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs) have different rules. Typically, you will name a beneficiary for your TFSA and RRSP accounts and that individual will receive the funds from those accounts in the estate administration process. 

Accessing a Deceased Person’s Bank Account

For joint bank accounts and bank accounts with designated beneficiaries (but not TFSAs and RRSPs), it’s relatively easy to access a deceased person’s bank account. 

As noted above, if you are a joint bank account owner, you will be able to continue using the bank account after your joint owner has passed. However, you will need to present the bank with the deceased’s death certificate to gain full control of the account. 

Similarly, the beneficiary will need to provide the bank with a copy of the deceased’s death certificate for bank accounts with beneficiaries. 

Obtaining a Death Certificate in Ontario 

A death certificate documents the death of an individual, and it can be easily ordered online in Ontario. Obtaining a death certificate isn’t always a quick process – it can take up to 12 weeks to register a death in Ontario. 

Anyone can order a death certificate, and there are no restrictions on the number of death certificates you can apply for. However, only the next of kin or authorized representative can apply for a certified copy of the death registration. 

To order a death certificate online, you will need basic personal information about the deceased (including their first and last name, date of death, and place of death, among other things). 

A death certificate costs range from $15.00 to $45.00, depending on how quickly you need it and the delivery method. Note that if you are ordering a certified copy of the death registration or a certified copy of the death registration with the cause of death, the costs are higher. 

For further guidance on obtaining a death certificate in Ontario, consult ServiceOntario’s guide on how to get a copy of an Ontario death certificate online

Considerations for Bank Accounts

So, can you withdraw money from a deceased person’s bank account? Typically, no. However, like any situation, there are some exceptions documented above. With this information in mind, estate planners need to consider their unique circumstances and take certain precautions to ensure their wishes are respected and the estate administration process is as simple as possible for loved ones. 

Consider some of the following tips when determining how to structure your bank accounts for estate planning purposes: 

  • Regardless of how you plan to distribute assets, always remember the importance of creating a will and having an estate planning strategy in place. Documenting your assets (like bank accounts) and intentions is critical for ensuring that assets are found and dealt with promptly. 
  • Confirm that you understand the requirements if you intend to set up a joint bank account or add a beneficiary to your bank account. For example, different banks may have different requirements or require different documentation from the joint account holder or beneficiary. 
  • Consider opening a joint account with your spouse to ensure they can continue to access funds from the account after you’re gone (or vice versa). 

Contact the Estate Lawyers at Tierney Stauffer LLP for Comprehensive Estate Planning

At Tierney Stauffer LLP, we take a client-focused approach to our work, providing innovative guidance through the estate planning and administration process. Whether you’re dealing with a deceased person’s estate or require estate planning assistance, our estate lawyers have extensive experience and will work to secure the results you need to move forward. Call us at 1-888-799-8057 or contact us online to set up a consultation with an experienced wills and estates lawyer

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Ottawa, Ontario
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