When a loved one passes away and the estate is going through the probate process, there is a misconception among many that the bank accounts will be immediately available to the heirs of the Estate. This is not true.
Bank accounts are considered assets in the same way as the rest of the assets of the Estate. They must be added to the asset inventory and will not be available for disbursement to the beneficiaries of the Estate until the probate process is complete.
If the deceased possessed a safety deposit box, banks will allow the personal representative to view the safety deposit box for the purpose of adding those items to the inventory of the Estate, but they will not allow the PR to take any of the items in the safety deposit box.
The same is true of bank accounts. The bank may allow the PR to view the balance of the account, but it will not allow them to withdraw funds until the probate process is complete. The exception to this is joint accounts, in which case the second person named on the account already has access to said account.
For example, if a husband and wife own a joint checking account and one of the spouses passes away, the other will not be “locked out” of the account because it is already their account as well. The same is true of other situations in which you may hold a joint account with another individual.
If the deceased was an entrepreneur who owned 100% of a corporation or limited liability company, then that corporate bank account is also subject to the probate process, unless there are additional persons who are listed as signatories of the account.
Additionally, if you as the PR of the Estate go to the bank to inquire about the deceased’s bank account “A,” and the deceased has an additional bank account “B,” banks are legally prohibited from disclosing the second account to you. This is why it may be worth the additional time and effort to forego summary administration of the estate until you are sure you have discovered all of the assets the deceased held.