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The rules of joint bank accounts

OPENING a joint bank account in France is a relatively straight-forward procedure but there are issues worth considering

OPENING a joint bank account in France is a relatively straight-forward procedure but there are several issues worth considering to protect your money and avoid disputes. Firstly, it is worth noting that you do not have to be a married couple. Any two people (or more) can sign up for an account for which they are all signatories, with joint responsibility and liability. This could be a parent and their children, a person with severe disabilities and their carer, or the heirs to an estate. Each person needs to supply proof of identity and address.

The difference between ou and et
There are two main types of account depending on your circumstances. A regular compte joint, if owned by a couple, should be in the name of “M ou Mme”, meaning only one signature is needed when writing cheques or setting up standing orders (virements automatiques) and direct debits (prélèvements automatiques). Each account holder has their own card for payments – and most banks offer a discount on the fee for the second one. A compte collectif, sometimes called a compte en indivision, requires the approval of all account holders for a transaction to be allowed. This is particularly useful in the case of an inheritance, where there are strict rules about who is entitled to how much – but it is obviously much less practical for an ordinary couple at the supermarket, who would have to both be present. In this case, the account name would be “M et Mme” and it will only come with one payment card.

Do not mix business with home spending
The French Banking Federation strongly advises that self-employed people run their business through a separate account and reserve the joint account for household needs. Urssaf, for example, can seize the contents of a joint account if one of the holders’ businesses experiences difficulties and does not pay its social charges.

If you go overdrawn, each account holder has equal liability. All owners face the risk of being banned from banking on all their accounts, not just the joint one.

A joint account can only be closed by mutual agreement, called désolidarisation. In the event of a dispute, individual holders can renounce their ownership of the account by registered letter to the bank, leaving the account in the remaining person’s (or people’s) name, but they cannot walk away from debts already accrued, or which emerge soon afterwards and can be linked to that person’s activities.

In the event of a death, a surviving partner keeps access to the account – its balance is not automatically blocked. However, spending from the account could pose inheritance problems if there are other heirs who have a claim to the person’s estate. Tax authorities and notaires representing one or several heirs can obtain an order for the account to be frozen.

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