Right of Survivorship

Winter 2007 CSANews Issue 65  |   Posted date : May 22, 2008.Back to list

Bird talk - Le Jaseur
Dear Bird Talk,

Perhaps you think that when a couple has a joint bank account with right of survivorship that no changes will be made after the death of one partner. When my husband passed away, I found out that this is not so with our account at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. When I informed the bank of his death, they immediately placed restrictions on our account and advised me to open a new account.

I could no longer do telephone banking or Internet banking, could not use the ATM or write cheques on the account. Arrangements that had previously been made for automatic payment of pensions, Old Age Security and automatic withdrawal for utility payments were no longer available. The only way I could access money was to appear in person at my bank branch so that a second teller could initial my withdrawal.

I would strongly advise holders of joint accounts to check with their bank to see what rules are in place.

Yours truly,
Olive Bissell

Response :
This is becoming a real issue in the settling of estates and the banks are simply trying to protect themselves (and you, for that matter) from survivor suits and fraud. There have been recent court cases regarding the “right of survivorship” and the court’s message is that the person’s wishes must be clearly identified. We recommend that as part of your estate documents (separate from your will), you leave a letter stating that amounts or shares in joint accounts belong to the survivor on death. If this is not your wish, then state that the joint party is holding the amounts “in trust” to be distributed in accordance with your will. If you wish your joint party to own the assets on your death, I would file a copy of the letter with your bank and get a reply from them stating that they will comply with your wishes.

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