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Joint bank accounts – post death : Clarity of intention is key

Joint bank accounts – post death : Clarity of intention is key

Joint bank accounts are useful mechanisms for the management of money on a daily basis. For example, elderly parents may hold joint accounts with their children so that the children can manage and assist them with their daily activities as they get older. It is also very common with couples as it makes the payment of household expenses much easier.

However, despite these benefits, joint accounts can cause considerable problems when one of the account holders die.

Disputes can arise as to whether, and if so the extent to which, the monies in the joint account fall within the deceased’s estate to be dealt with in accordance with wishes expressed in his / her Will or whether they pass to the surviving owner.

As can be seen below, the position can be confusing as there are conflicting legal principles.

Rule of survivorship

The usual position is that on death of one of the account holders, the joint account will pass by the rule of survivorship to the surviving account holder, outside the terms of the deceased’s Will.

In most cases there is no need to wait for the Grant of Probate, the surviving account holder only need to provide the death certificate to the appropriate bank who will then transfer the account into the survivor’s sole name.

But what if only one party put all the money into the joint bank account?

Despite the rule of survivorship described above, a dispute can arise when one party has paid all or most of the money into the account. A court can and will look at the true intention behind the creation of the account and afterwards.

The starting point is a presumption that the monies contributed by the deceased joint owner will fall within his estate.

It will be for the surviving account holder to prove that it was  intended that the funds should belong to them after the death of the other account holder.

This can be difficult to ascertain, as usually there is no written evidence to clarify the position and accounts are often created through an informal mutual understanding between the account holders.

Case example – Drakeford v Cotton and Stain

In the case of Drakeford v Cotton and Stain [2012] EWHC 1414(Ch), a mother added her daughter’s name to her bank account for convenience, to enable the frail mother to access it.

The starting point was that all of the monies in the account fell within the mother’s estate as she had funded the account.

When the joint account was established, the mother had not intended to give her daughter the money. However, over time, the mother’s intentions changed since she made it clear to the daughter and to her son that the daughter should inherit the account after her death.

The court came to this conclusion on a review of the surrounding circumstances and after hearing evidence from witnesses that the mother had fallen out with her other daughter and wished to disinherit her. There was evidence that the mother intended to make a new Will to disinherit her other daughter but had not executed it before she died.

Whilst the deceased’s intentions were upheld, this was only after an expensive and acrimonious Court battle.


Although joint bank accounts can be a flexible tool to manage day to day activities, it is important that parties should ensure that their intentions are properly documented to avoid disputes arising after the death of one of them.

Contact our wills, trusts and probate experts today

If you still haven’t finalised your last wishes or would like to write a new will, contest a will, want to leave money in trust for a young relative, or are struggling with probate issues, please call us on 03456 381381. Alternatively, email us at estatemanagement@ibblaw.co.uk.