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When the bank is informed that you have died, they will block all your bank accounts, even the joint accounts you have with your spouse or partner.

How long the accounts are blocked depends on the situation.

It is only if one of your heirs is living outside the European Economic Area that the bank is obliged, by law, to freeze the account. The European Economic Area includes the 28 EU Member States plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. The bank accounts remain blocked until a certificate is delivered confirming that the inheritance tax has been paid or that sufficient guarantees have been given for the payment of the inheritance tax.

However, if all your heirs live in the European Economic Area, the only obligation that banks and financial institutions have is to inform the tax authorities how much money you have on your accounts before they release any money from these accounts. They have to declare how much money is on the current and savings accounts and list the securities held on investment accounts.

Why do the banks block your accounts ?  It is really to limit their responsibility and to make sure that they pay out to the rightful heirs that the bank freezes your bank accounts. 

What does that mean ? 

For your spouse this means that he or she does not have access to your accounts or even their own accounts. In practice, the banks will pay any hospital and funeral bills. However, they will not pay e.g. the rent, even if your last salary or pension is paid into the account.

Banks are permitted to pay the hospital and medical bills for the last year as well as the funeral bills.

Moreover, your spouse or civil partner can draw up to €5,000 from all the blocked accounts, with a maximum of half of the balance of the account.  If they withdraw more than that, the excess is deducted from what they inherit.

What is more important is that if they draw money from the account, they cannot refuse the inheritance anymore, even if the deceased leaves more debts than assets.