How do I access my deceased loved one’s bank account?

Posted by Charles “Brad” Dixon | Sep 14, 2022 | 0 Comments

Joint Accounts

When a loved one passes, there are a few different ways to go about obtaining access to their bank accounts.  First, under Georgia law, if you and the decedent were both listed as joint account holders, then the funds will automatically pass to you.  No probate is required for this happen.  You'll just need to present the bank with a copy of the death certificate, such that the bank can list the account in your name, alone.

Payable On Death Beneficiaries

Second, even if you are not listed as a joint account holder, it is possible that your loved one named you as a payable on death beneficiary of the account.  In this situation, the bank would be required to pay the funds to the person named as the payable on death beneficiary.  This situation can also be handled without the need of probate.

Decedent Left a Will

If the your loved one left a will, then the named executor in the will needs to offer it for probate.  After the executor obtains letters testamentary from the probate court, then they will be authorized to collect all assets of the estate, including the funds held in any bank accounts of the decedent.  After collecting all of the assets of the estate, and then paying all debts owed by the estate, the executor will the distribute the remaining assets in accordance with the terms of the decedent's will.

Decedent Did Not Leave a Will

If the Decedent did not leave a will, there are a couple of different options.  First, anyone can petition the probate court to become the administrator of the estate.  This is similar to being the executor of an estate with a will, except that the administrator pays remaining proceeds to the heirs of the Decedent, rather than beneficiaries named in the will (since there is no will…).  In this case, the administrator would received letters of administration from the probate court, thus authorizing them to collect the funds from the account, pay debts, and then make payment to the heirs.

Second, there is an option that most don't know about.  If the Decedent did not leave a will, and if the bank account has less than $15,000, then there is possibility that the bank could simply pay the money to (1) the surviving spouse, (2) if there is no surviving spouse, then to the decedent's children in equal shares, (3) if there are no children or surviving spouse, then to the decedent's parents in equal shares, or (4) if there is no surviving spouse, children, or parents, then to the siblings of the decedent in equal shares.  In order for the bank to release the funds, an affidavit must be filed with the bank certifying certain necessary requirements under O.C.G.A. § 7-1-239.

If no family member presents an affidavit to the bank within 45 days of the date of death, then the bank is authorized to pay the funds to cover funeral expenses and expenses associated with the deceased's last illness.  This means that a representative from the funeral home, hospital, etc. could similarly present an affidavit to the bank.  So, it is important that you file your affidavit within 45 days after the date of death to ensure your eligibility to obtain the funds.

If you're in this situation, be sure to contact us to learn more about this option and to ensure that the affidavit is drafted and executed appropriately to ensure success.

About the Author

Charles “Brad” Dixon

Brad grew up in West Virginia and graduated from the West Virginia College of Law in 2009. He went on serve as an Army JAG Officer, and spent the large majority of his career in the courtroom. Brad served as a general crimes prosecutor, special victims prosecutor, criminal defense counsel, and wa...


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