Bank account funds. Who is entitled to what after the testator’s death?

Publication date: January 11, 2024

Obtaining information about the account and payment of the contribution in the event of the bank account holder’s death is often a considerable problem for heirs or administrators of the estate. Problems are caused not only by procedural requirements, but often also by banks themselves, which have little to gain from fulfilling their obligations towards authorized persons, but a lot to lose. From the economic point of view – financial resources which – although given to the bank under a repayable title – constitute the basis of its lending activities, from the legal point of view – venturing into the thicket of inheritance regulations and in many cases – the circle of heirs is difficult to determine, and it is easy to stumble, and thus, there are also problems with banking supervision. Therefore, banks are very reluctant to perform their duties, often multiplying problems and procedural requirements. It is therefore worth knowing when the bank should and when it cannot provide information about the account or withdraw funds from it.

Duty to provide information about funds held in the bank account of the deceased

In many cases, eligible persons will initially be interested in information about the accounts held for the holder, even more than immediate payment. For the reasons mentioned above, the bank will most often invoke banking secrecy in such a case. During the holder’s lifetime, no one has the right to obtain any information about his account, including whether the account is held for a specific person at all. However, the situation is different after the death of the holder, then – in accordance with Art. 92ba of the Polish Banking Law – the bank is obliged to provide, whether to persons with legal title to the estate or to the succession administrator, collective information on accounts held for the deceased – the general requirement in this respect is that this information be as complete as possible. Importantly, the bank may also provide information about accounts maintained in other banks. For this purpose – pursuant to Art. 92bb of the Polish Banking Law – banks keep records – which allows them to obtain similar information. Therefore, when sending an inquiry to a bank, it is worth including all bank accounts held by the testator. Formally, to obtain information, first of all, you need a death certificate (or another official document confirming the death of the testator), as well as an inheritance certificate or a copy of the inheritance confirmation. In the case of a curator these documents will be replaced by a copy of the court’s decision appointing the latter, and in the case of the executor of the will issued – in accordance with § 665 par. 1 of the Code of Civil Procedure – a certificate from a notary or the inheritance court. In the case of other entities not covered by the provisions of Art. 92ba of the Polish Banking Law, obtaining information about accounts – due to banking secrecy – can prove to be difficult.

Disbursement of funds

The method of requesting the bank to withdraw funds from the holder’s bank account depends on the basis on which the funds are to be withdrawn. If the basis is the acquisition of an inheritance, it is possible to withdraw funds from the account after proving your entitlement to them. The situation will be simpler if there is only one heir. Then, after presenting the inheritance certificate deed or confirmation of inheritance acquisition to the bank, it should not create additional problems and funds should be withdrawn. However, if we are dealing with several heirs, a division of the inheritance will be necessary to obtain the payment, as the bank will not know how much money it should pay and to whom. In theory, one could consider a similar application in such a situation of the provisions on a separate or joint account, where, respectively – acting independently or jointly – the co-holders are entitled to pay out the entire deposit. However, this is a rather sophisticated view and it would be difficult to dissuade a bank that is naturally averse to legal risk, which additionally exposes it to economic losses.

On this basis, there is still a doubt as to the inheritance of the position of co-holder of a joint account. In this case, the problem is most often solved by the banks themselves, which include appropriate clauses in the joint account agreements, providing for the termination of the agreement and payment of funds to the surviving co-owner or the transformation of the joint account into an individual account, or – for the heirs to assume the rights of the deceased co-owner. In the case of this last reservation, much will depend on the type of joint account – if it is a separate account (this will be the case in the vast majority of cases), the heirs can withdraw the amount due to them without additional help from the surviving co-owner, and if we are dealing with a joint account, it will be necessary to agree with the co-owner and jointly determine what amount will be paid. This can be done unless the contract with the bank contains other, more detailed provisions on this matter. It should also be remembered that obtaining a payment by the bank cannot be seen as independent evidence of the beneficiary’s entitlement to the funds received; it releases the bank from its obligations towards the heirs, but does not regulate their mutual relations in any way.

In the event of a need for quick withdrawal, a power of attorney for the account granted before death will not help, as it expires upon death. Making a withdrawal – even by a former representative – before the bank receives information about the holder’s death will be an illegal act, and in the case of a person who has no rights to inheritance, it may even be considered theft.

Banking law provides an additional option for withdrawing funds from an account if the person requesting the payment incurred the funeral costs of the deceased holder. He does not have to be an authorized heir (and therefore does not have to prove his rights to the inheritance), but it is necessary for him to provide the bank with appropriate bills covering these costs.

Disposition of the contribution in the event of death

An alternative to the problems described above may be the provision of a contribution in the event of death. This solution is still not popular enough among bank customers, but it significantly facilitates future settlements between heirs. Art. 56 of the Banking Law regulating this institution allows the holder of a savings account, a savings and checking account, and a savings term deposit account to submit an appropriate instruction to the bank, which – in the event of the death of the account holder – obliges the bank to pay out the funds to the person to whom the payment was ordered. However, there are a few limitations to keep in mind. Firstly, of a subjective nature – from the side of the ordering party: the indicated accounts may be kept primarily for the benefit of natural persons, but cannot be run for the benefit of legal persons, hence this disposition in relation to the accounts of companies after the death of the sole shareholder or other sole proprietorships is not possible, moreover – from the side of possible beneficiaries – such a disposition can only be made to a specific group of people: spouse, ascendant, descendant or sibling. Secondly – from the objective side – in accordance with Art. 56 section 2 of the Banking Law the amount paid, regardless of the number of instructions issued, cannot be higher than twenty times the average monthly remuneration in the corporate sector, excluding bonuses from profit, announced by the President of the Central Statistical Office for the last month before the death of the account holder. Currently, the amount is approximately PLN 140,000 – 150,000 zlotys. It is also not possible to submit the described instruction in relation to joint accounts. Despite the above-mentioned limitations, the disposal of the contribution in the event of death certainly deserves consideration, especially due to the fact that the amount it covers is not included in the inheritance, and therefore – it is not affected by the problems discussed in the earlier part of the article.