There’s an old expression that says “You can’t take it with you”, but it begs the question, what happens to the bank account you leave behind when you pass on? Well, the answer depends on several factors including whether there was a will, if it was a joint account or if the owner died intestate (died without having made a will).

In the unfortunate event that an account holder dies, here is what happens:

How does the bank know about the death of the account owner?

A bank will be notified of the account holder’s death through a formal letter supported by a death certificate. Brian Otieno, an advocate of the High Court of Kenya says the bank, on its own, cannot discover the passing on of an account holder but will be informed through a formal notification by persons related to him or her.

What is the process of releasing the funds to the next of kin? What are the requirements needed?

Banks have internal processes and procedures to do this. The process of releasing the funds however, has to be done in line with the requirements of the law (The Law of Succession Act, Cap 160) which largely revolve around the sufficient proof of death of the account owner. The proof of death is through the death certificate.

Can a bank account be accessed after its owner has passed away without a will?

Yes. The advocate says the process of accessing the accounts of a deceased exist in law.

Where the account owner listed a beneficiary, and the conditions for proof of death of the account holder have been met, the bank will release the funds accrued in the account to the listed beneficiary or beneficiaries and thereafter close the account.

What happens when there is no beneficiary on a bank account?

When an account owner dies without a will (intestacy) and a beneficiary is not outlined, the relatives will undertake a succession process in court, and after being granted the necessary orders, will use them to access the accounts.

Succession is the transfer or redistribution of the deceased’s property to the person or persons entitled either by will or operation of law.

In the case of an intestate succession, the surviving dependants can apply for a Grant of Letters of Administration over the estate. The application must include the following information:

  1. Full names of the deceased.
  2. Date and place of the deceased’s death
  3. Their last place of residence
  4. The relationship of the applicant to the deceased
  5. Indicate whether the deceased left a valid will
  6. Inventory of the assets and liabilities of the deceased
  7. Names and addresses of all surviving spouses, children, parents and siblings of the deceased, and children of any child of his or hers, then deceased. This is in the case of total or partial intestacy.

The procedure, in an intestate matter, then includes:

  1. Filing all relevant document at the applicable court for approval and assessment of fees. The essential documents include:
  2. A death certificate.
  3. Letter from the local chief giving the particulars of the deceased’s spouse and beneficiaries.
  4. Petition for letters of administration.
  5. Guarantee by personal sureties (to ensure the applicant fulfils their mandate as promised in the petition.
  6. Payments – The court will issue an invoice. Thereafter separate payments will be made for the court and gazettement fee to a specified bank.
  7. Notice in the Kenya Gazette – The petition for Grant of Letters of Administration will be gazetted by the court allowing anyone with interest in the deceased’s estate to raise any objection within 30 days from the date of publishing.
  8. Issuance of letters of administration – The petitioner will obtain the Grant of Letters of Administration from the court if there is no objection in the 30 days. This will set him up as the administrator of the funds.
  9. Confirmation of grant – The administrator of the estate is required to apply for a confirmation of grant six months from the issuance of the Grant of Letters of Administration.

What happens when there is more than one or more claimant?

All the claimants will make their submissions before the court, and the court will make a determination based on the submissions and evidence lodged before it.

And if it’s a joint account, what happens?

In the case of a joint account, two scenarios arise.

First, if both account owners are primary owners and share equal rights e.g., they were partners in business, the other account owner(s) automatically takes up the rights of the deceased account owner. This is based on a legal principle called the Doctrine of Survivorship. He or she is able to continue running the account normally without any hiccups.

Secondly, where the joint account owners did not have equal rights, the surviving account owner(s) cannot operate normally. Upon proof death, the funds will be released to the surviving owner(s) and the account will be closed.

Can one continue withdrawing or making payments to the bank account of an individual who has died? Is it legal?

This will only happen where, as joint owners they had equal rights and based on the Doctrine of Survivorship, the rights in the account accrue automatically. Other than that, it is not possible or legal.

What happens to a joint account in the event of intestate?

A succession process will ensue. The surviving account owner(s) will have to formally get the necessary orders from the court and submit them to the bank before they are able to access the account and the funds in it.