Reader question: If my partner dies, will I be able to use our joint account at a French bank? It is the only account I use in France
If you have a joint bank account open with someone else who dies, usually, this should not prevent you from using the account – but you still need to be careful if you do decide to use the funds from it.
Generally, if you have an account with your partner, it will have been set up as un compte joint.
With such accounts in principle the money in the account can continue to be accessed.
Usually such accounts are set up with the wording that they can be accessed by either one or other of the holders: Madame ou monsieur.
However, in the case of a type of account called compte indivis, decisions can only be made with the approval of both parties, which in the event of a death, means waiting for a will to be executed before the account can be used again.
If the account says Monsieur et Madame (Mr and Mrs…), this is liable to apply.
Be careful, however, as even in cases where the account says ou, the money belonging to the dead person at the time when they died may be included as part of their estate, so it is not necessarily yours to spend as you like, before the inheritance has been settled.
Half if it will be presumed to have belonged to the deceased, unless you can prove otherwise.
In a 2002 case top appeal court the Cour de Cassation ruled that in certain cases, banks could temporarily halt access to an account even if it is titled ou.
This can be the case, for example, if the bank is asked to do so by other people who are set to inherit as part of the will. In this case it could keep the account closed until the will has been fully settled.
What happens to the money in the account?
Even if you have access to the account after the joint holder has died the money in the account is likely to be subject to the execution of a will by a notaire.
If the will does not specifically state the money in the joint account should go to the joint holder (usually a life partner), then some of the money that belonged to the deceased may be owing to another party.
This is why excessive amounts of money from the account should not be spent until the will has been signed off and executed, as you may be unknowingly taken money from the part of the account not deemed to be yours.
The situation is simpler, of course, if you know that you will be inheriting everything, or for example if you had a marriage regime of communauté universelle specifying that the survivor becomes sole owner of everything.
If on the day of the person’s death, the account balance is negative, the bank may ask the surviving account holder to make up the balance of the account so that it has a positive amount.