To make managing their finances easier, spouses, civil union partners and cohabiting couples often choose to open a joint account. A practical solution for managing their shared expenses, this account may no longer be needed in some situations, such as after a divorce or separation. How can you close such an account? myLIFE has summarised everything you need to know.
Let’s start by separating the ‘sole signature joint account’ from the ‘dual signature joint account’. While the first only requires the consent of one account holder to approve any operations, the second requires the signature of all joint account holders. Whichever option you choose, you’re free to change the right of disposition over your joint account, by opting for the sole or dual signature variant while your account is open. You’ll then need to sign a document appended to your initial joint account application.
While the benefits of a sole signature joint account are clear for couples wishing to manage their shared expenses, it’s important not to underestimate the risks and the implications of closing it. A sole signature joint account requires the ability to delegate the management of the account funds to one or more joint account holders, who are free to act as they see fit. This includes emptying or overdrawing the account – and you are jointly and severally liable for any resulting negative balance. Whatever is in the account belongs jointly to the joint account holders, and the bank has neither the responsibility nor the power to control how the funds are used by any one of them. Trust is therefore essential. These risks don’t exist in the case of dual signature joint accounts, as no operation can be carried out without your prior consent.
Regardless, this probably won’t be an issue if you’re reading this article, as you likely wish to close your joint account or are at least seriously considering doing so.
Who does this apply to?
Let’s start by pointing out that, in addition to couples (spouses, civil partners, cohabiting partners), a joint account can also be set up by friends or family members. The account holders are called “joint account holders”. In the case of a sole signature joint account, you’re free to assign or revoke any agent or close your account yourself. However, the closure of a dual signature joint account requires the consent of all joint account holders. In any event, we encourage you to read your bank’s General Terms and Conditions in order to familiarise yourself with the provisions applicable to accounts with multiple account holders.
How should I go about it?
Is it a sole signature joint account? Then the procedure is easy! One reason is that you don’t have to go to the bank to inform them that you want to close your account. Simply draft a letter yourself, or download a template online. Sign your letter and attach a photocopy of both sides of your ID. Next, send it to the bank by registered mail with acknowledgement of receipt. To speed things up, you can also drop your documents off directly at a branch in the network where the account is maintained.
If you both agree to close the joint account (sole or dual signature), the procedure is the same. Make sure all of the account holders sign the letter, and remember to attach a photocopy of both sides of each account holder’s ID.
You won’t be able to close a dual signature joint account by yourself. However, given that all transactions require your approval, you can effectively stop the account from being used. This way, you’ll avoid any nasty surprises. In this case, the definitive closure of the account requires the consent of all parties who opened it. If either party is unable to grant this approval, it is possible to delegate this decision to a guardian, provided that this arrangement is approved by a probate judge.
If your partner won’t agree to close the account, don’t panic. In this case, send a letter by registered mail with acknowledgement of receipt both to the bank and to the other joint account holder, explaining your desire to close the account. The bank will then act as the parties’ mediator, before closing the account once any outstanding transactions have been completed and any debts relating to this account have been paid.
Is the account balanced?
Before closing the account, we’ll need to take a look at the account’s existing (…or non-existent!) funds. If the account balance is negative, you and the joint account holder must reimburse the bank until this amount equals 0. However, if the balance is positive, the process will be easier: each account holder will receive the amount owing to them.
The question “Who pays or receives what?” doesn’t concern your bank; the bank only needs the balance to equal 0.
We would point out that the question “Who pays or receives what?” doesn’t concern your bank; the bank only needs the balance to equal 0. In the case of disagreement, how the funds are allocated must be settled amicably between the joint account holders, or by their respective lawyers, or even by the courts. As such, in the event of a divorce, remember that you don’t need to wait until the end of legal proceedings before closing the bank account.
The account you’ve decided to close is most likely linked to one or more debit or credit cards. Think about returning these cards to your bank when the time comes. Your account manager can help you with these matters.
Also remember to cancel or transfer to a valid account any standing orders, direct debit authorisations or transfers currently attached to your joint account.
Don’t forget, it’s also possible to turn a joint account into an individual account. In other words, one of the joint account holders can retain the account for their personal use. The procedure is the same as the one that applies to close an account, as set out above. Your letter must only state that you wish to remove yourself from the account in question, and that the other account holder grants their consent to retain sole control over the account.
Closing a joint account or removing yourself from an account will not necessarily be enough to release you from your account obligations. Therefore, in the case of a marriage under the fully shared property regime, the partner having removed themselves from the account shall remain jointly and severally liable for any debts incurred before the estate has been divided. These matters are complex, and largely exceed the scope of this article. We recommend that you seek expert advice in this respect, in order to obtain answers suited to your specific situation.
Although the joint account largely facilitates the management of joint account holders’ finances, it also holds them liable in equal measure. While both account management and closure deserve our attention, the closing of the account often takes place during a potentially contentious separation. It’s therefore important to tackle each step in order, and encourage clear communication between joint account holders.