Do You Have to Be Married to Have a Joint Account?

In many cases, it’s easy to split expenses and share them with others without intermingling each party’s finances. In some situations, it just makes more sense to open a joint account. While many people think about joint accounts as a part of marriage, virtually any couple, married or not, can open a joint checking account together.

Joint Account Basics

For the most part, you may open a joint checking account with anyone you like. While married couples often combine their finances in an account, unmarried couples, business partners, roommates or parents and their children may also opt for the convenience that a joint checking account provides. Additionally, account holders can name more than two people as owners of the account, conferring ownership and responsibilities of the account on as many people as they feel necessary.

Ownership and Liability of Joint Accounts

When funds enter a joint checking account, all members of the account become legal owners of the funds, and may spend them with limited legal recourse, regardless of which party originally made the deposit. Similarly, all account holders may be held personally liable for charges associated with the account. For example, Steve and Linda open a joint checking account. Steve places $2,000 into it, and Linda contributes $200. Because it’s a joint account, Linda can then withdraw the entire $2,200 as she wishes. If she writes a check for $4,000 from the account the next day, when it bounces Steve may also be held liable for charges she created.

Death of One Account Holder

Funds in a joint account are considered jointly held property, and when one account owner dies, the remaining one takes full possession of the funds. The joint account doesn’t enter the deceased’s estate or pass through probate, and the deceased’s heirs have no direct claim on any balance left in the account. If a couple is unmarried and uses a joint account, all funds in it revert to the survivor, which may bring complications to heirs who want their share of the account.

Authorized Users vs. Joint Accounts

While on a day-to-day basis authorized users may use an account in the same fashion as one held jointly, authorized users aren’t account holders. As with joint accounts, an authorized user doesn’t need to be married to the account owner, and can make purchases using funds in the account. They don’t, however, have any ownership of the account, nor are they liable for it. If an unmarried couple places each other as authorized users on one another’s accounts, and one dies, the deceased’s heirs receive the account rather than ownership transferring to the surviving member of the couple.

Photo Credits

  • Stock pictures of checks used as a form of payment image by Albert Lozano-Nieto from Fotolia.com

About the Author

Wilhelm Schnotz has worked as a freelance writer since 1998, covering arts and entertainment, culture and financial stories for a variety of consumer publications. His work has appeared in dozens of print titles, including "TV Guide" and "The Dallas Observer." Schnotz holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Colorado State University.

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