How to Access Accounts After a Death in Texas: What you need to know.
After a Person Dies in Texas, Accessing the Deceased’s Accounts Should Be A Top Priority
The way you can access a deceased person’s accounts in Texas depends on several factors:
#1) Is there a valid last will and testament or a trust?
If the deceased had a living trust, that trust should have been “funded” during the person’s lifetime. That means that the person’s accounts should have been put into the trust. If the living trust was funded, then when the person died, there was nothing in his/her name. In other words, if the deceased person had a Texas living trust in which the trust owned the accounts, the trustee named in the living trust documents can access the bank accounts immediately upon the death.
If the deceased person did not have a living trust but did have a Texas last will and testament, the accounts owned by the deceased individual typically cannot be accessed immediately. Rather, the will must be probated first. This requires that you hire a Texas probate attorney to assist you with the process of validating the will with the Texas probate judge.
Since the probate process in Texas takes weeks or months, you won’t be able to access the deceased person’s accounts immediately if there was no living trust. At the conclusion of the probate process, the executor named in the will gets a document called “letters testamentary” from the probate judge. The letters testamentary is the golden ticket providing access to the deceased person’s accounts.
#2) Are there beneficiaries designated on the deceased persons accounts?
If the deceased person had designated beneficiaries on the accounts, then the designated beneficiaries are the only ones able to access those accounts. Many retirement accounts and life insurance policies have designated beneficiaries. After the death, those companies have well-defined policies for collecting those funds. It usually entails sending off a death certificate and completing some company-specific forms.
On checking accounts and savings accounts, the deceased may have designated a person as a “joint tenant with right of survivorship.” You’ll often see this abbreviated as JTWROS or JTROS. If the account has a joint tenant with right of survivorship, then the person designated as the joint tenant simply automatically owns the balance of the account upon the death of the original accountholder. The joint tenant will simply need to provide a death certificate to the bank to remove the deceased accountholder’s name.
#3) What type of account is it?
Above we discuss the process for accessing a deceased person’s checking accounts, savings accounts, trust accounts, and accounts with beneficiary designations. What about electronic accounts, such as email accounts, Apple iTunes accounts, etc.?
There’s good news on this front! Texas has enacted the “Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act.” Under the Act, the user (the deceased person) has the power to grant authority to a fiduciary (which includes a power of attorney agent and the executor of his will and estate).
This law is great because it gives the user the power to decide what digital account access to allow. If, for example, the deceased accountholder didn’t want his executor to be able to access his personal email account–then he can specify that with the provider. On the other hand, if the accountholder didn’t specifically select to exclude fiduciary access from his digital accounts, then the executor would be able to access the digital account after the probate.
Accessing the digital accounts can actually be an important piece of the puzzle for an executor. This is because financial account information is often included in the deceased’s emails. So, getting access to an email account is a great way to discover where the deceased person held financial accounts.