Earlier this year, Ken’s father passed away. He had been investing in certificates of deposit for decades, and had set up each CD with one of his sons as beneficiary, so that accessing or re-investing the money would be simple…or as simple as any transaction with a megabank ever is. Out of all of the CDs, the only problem was one at Wells Fargo. Since the beneficiary information was missing from their computer systems, they needed the original receipt from when the account was opened. Ken’s dad was originally issued the wrong type of receipt for the state he lived in, so there was no proof that Ken was the beneficiary for the account. Now he needs a court order to get to the account.
If Wells Fargo expected Ken to back down, there was something they didn’t know: he writes a blog about banking for consumers, and knows what to do when things go wrong. From his post about the situation:
My dad had been investing in bank CDs for the last 30 years. Fortunately, he was careful to ensure all of his bank accounts had beneficiaries (either me or my two brothers). The nice thing about bank account beneficiaries is that it avoids probate. When a beneficiary is listed on a bank account, the beneficiary can access the account after the account owner dies. The beneficiary just needs to show the bank his ID and a certified copy of the death certificate. No court document is necessary.
My brothers and I had no problems accessing all of my dad’s CDs except for this one Wells Fargo CD which had me as the beneficiary. Wells Fargo’s systems did not show anyone as the beneficiary of that CD.
In addition to being careful about specifying beneficiaries on his accounts, my dad was also careful in keeping the documents from the banks. He had sent me a copy of that Wells Fargo receipt showing me as the beneficiary. I thought that would convince the branch manager that it was their mistake. However, that was not the case.
When I first visited the branch, the manager wasn’t there, so one of the bankers assisted me. Since I wasn’t listed in the system as the beneficiary, the banker wasn’t sure what to do. He called Wells Fargo’s legal department and faxed them the CD receipt. After discussing the issue with the legal department, the banker informed me of the legal department’s decision that the receipt was not valid.
Wells Fargo’s legal department claimed the receipt was only for certain states and it should not have been used for Florida. I informed them that it was the Wells Fargo banker who generated this document and gave it to my dad. If the banker didn’t know the receipt was valid, how should they expect the customer to know? I spoke with the branch manager, and the manager took the same position. They view the CD as having no beneficiary. To access the account I need a court order. According to my attorney, I need to go through a summary administration process which will cost at least $250.
He’s also filed a complaint with the Office of the Comptroller of Currency, which regulates Wells Fargo, but hasn’t heard back.