Letter: Deceased Spousal Account

If you are married and have bank accounts, then this is for you. If a husband or wife has an account in their sole name, Florida banks require a court order before turning over funds in the bank account to the surviving spouse. Assume the deceased husband’s account has a small balance. It may not be practical for the wife to hire an attorney and pay the $232 filing fee to obtain a court order. Multiply this by 1,000, and the bank ends up with millions that it can use as collateral to make loans. Under the current law, while the bank will not turn the money over to the wife, it can lend it to her with interest. To quote Shakespeare, “Something is rotten in Denmark.”

One solution is to create a pay-on-death account, as in Florida Banking Statute in Title 38 Ch. 655.82. Your friendly banker might tell you how to do it, but don’t count on it. In our example, if the husband had drawn a check payable to the wife before he died, the banking laws provide that the bank must honor the check, even after the death of the husband as long as the check is presented within time (generally six months). In other words the bank cannot “freeze” the account and refuse to honor the check.

I drafted an amendment to the law and sent it to Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater. If the law is passed, the surviving spouse would simply sign an affidavit, present a death certificate and proof of marriage, and the bank will have to turn the money over, without court fees and without having to hire an attorney.

If you support this change in the law, call Mr. Atwater’s office at (877) 693-5236 and say you support the “Deceased Spousal Account” amendment.

Frank Morelli, Wellington