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What Happens to My Checking and Savings Accounts?

As a Folsom estate planning attorney who specializes in asset protection, I often come across clients who are wondering what will happen with their liquid assets after they pass on. Namely, they may have an important amount of money in checking and savings accounts and are curious to know how these accounts fit into their overall estate plan. 

What happens to your checking and savings accounts after you pass away will depend on several factors, including how the accounts are structured, whether you have made specific arrangements, and specific California statutes. Here are some common scenarios:

  1. Individual Accounts:
    • If you have individual checking and savings accounts in your name only, without any payable-on-death (POD) or transfer-on-death (TOD) designations, the accounts will become part of your estate.
    • These accounts will typically go through the probate process, where a court will oversee the distribution of your assets (which includes your bank accounts) according to your will or, if you don’t have a will, according to state intestacy laws. Given the time and expense of dealing with courts, especially in the greater Sacramento area, it is best advised to avoid probate if possible.  
  2. Joint Accounts:
    • If you have a joint checking or savings account with someone else, the ownership structure will determine what happens to the account.
    • In many cases, joint accounts have a right of survivorship. This means that when one account holder passes away, the surviving account holder automatically becomes the sole owner of the account, and the funds in the account belong to them.
  3. Payable-on-Death (POD) or Transfer-on-Death (TOD) Designations:
    • If you have designated beneficiaries for your checking or savings accounts using POD or TOD instructions, the funds will pass directly to the named beneficiaries upon your death, bypassing probate.
    • The beneficiary simply needs to provide a death certificate and identification to the bank to claim the funds.
  4. Trust Accounts:
    • If you have placed your checking or savings accounts into a revocable living trust, the funds will be distributed according to the terms of the trust upon your passing, avoiding probate. Additionally, the benefit of naming the revocable living trust as the owner is that there is always somewhere for the money to go. Conversely, if you have listed a beneficiary and that beneficiary passes away before you do, then the money will not go to that beneficiary’s heirs. Rather, the funds will then need to go through the probate process. 
  5. Estate Settlement:
    • If your accounts become part of your estate and go through probate, the executor (or “personal representative” as it may be referred to in California) will manage the process. They will use the funds in the accounts to pay your debts, taxes, and other expenses, and distribute the remaining assets to your beneficiaries or heirs according to your will or California intestacy law.
  6. Bank Policies and Procedures:
    • Each bank may have its own policies and procedures for handling accounts of deceased customers. It’s important for your personal representative or beneficiaries to contact the bank promptly after your passing to initiate the necessary steps for accessing the funds.


To ensure a smooth transition of your checking and savings accounts after your passing, it’s important to have clear and up-to-date beneficiary designations, consider the ownership structure of joint accounts, and maintain an organized record of your financial accounts and estate planning documents. Consulting with a Folsom attorney who specializes in estate planning is essential because beneficiary designations are just one part of the estate plan and they must flow through with your other assets. If you have any questions about your checking and savings accounts, please contact Thapar Law at 916-579-0605 or send us a message.

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