Can a Spouse Legally Withdraw Funds From a Bank Account?

Things tend to get complicated when money and relationships are at stake. The subject becomes particularly tricky if parties divorce or enter into a separation agreement. “Some lawyers advise clients to withdraw as much as they can [from bank accounts] before litigation commences,” writes Pittsburgh attorney Brian Vertz on his website, Family Law Source. He advises the opposite. If family law specialists can’t agree on spouse withdrawal protocols, no wonder it’s difficult to find just one answer to the question of a spouse withdrawing funds from a bank. Ask the following questions to determine your answer.

Does She Have the Legal Right to Withdraw?

Your spouse can withdraw funds if she is a signatory on the bank account, has made withdrawals in the past and there are no legal restrictions tied to such a withdrawal. Joint accounts stipulate legal access by any and all signers on the bank account.

Does He Need a Large Sum of money?

If a spouse tries to withdraw $10,000, for example, with no advance warning, and if bank management isn’t forewarned, there’s a chance the bank may not be able to undertake the withdrawal because there isn’t enough cash on hand. Additionally, if a spouse refuses to sign the Currency Transaction Report required by law for a single withdrawal of more than $10,000, he could leave the bank empty-handed.

Has The Spouse Died?

A spouse can withdraw funds from a joint account if she brings a Death Certificate to bank officials. If the account in question is an individual account owned by the deceased and there’s a right of survivorship agreement in place, the spouse is entitled to withdraw. Bank officials may ask to see a will showing the right of the spouse to access the account. It’s important to bring certified copies -- not photocopies -- of such instruments.

Can You Authorize a Spouse’s Withdrawal?

Yes. A spouse can withdraw funds from your account even if she is not a signatory, but the account’s owner must provide written authorization. Ask bank officials whether the institution uses a specific withdrawal permission form or if a handwritten letter will suffice. If you and your spouse plan ahead, ask to have a statement put on file when the account is opened that stipulates your permission for fund withdrawal should you be incapacitated.

Does Your Bank Have Withdrawal Limits?

Even if proper documentation, advance warning and legally executed permission letters or forms are presented, if your bank limits the number of withdrawals it allows on every account holder and the spouse has already reached that number, a spouse may find that the financial institution is prohibited from disbursing funds.

Is Your Spouse Incompetent?

Having a spouse declared incompetent establishes a new set of complications. If there’s no document in place allowing a spouse permission to withdraw funds, turn to a lawyer for help sorting things out. In Illinois, when a spouse is declared mentally impaired, incompetent or incapacitated, a guardianship must be established that allows the healthy spouse power of attorney, as long as there’s no legal challenge from family members.

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About the Author

Based in Chicago, Gail Cohen has been a professional writer for more than 30 years. She has authored and co-authored 14 books and penned hundreds of articles in consumer and trade publications, including the Illinois-based "Daily Herald" newspaper. Her newest book, "The Christmas Quilt," was published in December 2011.

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