According to the L.A. Times’ David Lazarus, the account holder passed away in March. Before then, his disability checks had been direct-deposited to his BofA account on a regular basis.
The bank even acknowledged in writing that it had been notified of the customer’s death, but that didn’t stop it from charging $12 monthly fees to the account, which only had around $1,175 in it when the man passed away.
“Is it wrong morally? Yes,” one probate attorney explains to Lazarus. “Legally? No. The law says they can get away with it.”
The issue involved is that the account-holder did not have a will at the time of his death. Per California law, after 40 days a person’s heirs can attempt to lay claim to any amount below $150,000.
The late man’s son says he talked to the bank, but was given the impression that it would require so much paperwork and hundreds of dollars in legal fees, so it probably wasn’t worth going through all that hassle for the few hundred dollars that would remain.
Additionally, while California law requires banks to hand over inactive bank accounts to the state for safekeeping after a period of three years, the banks can keep charging maintenance fees during that time. In this case, that would ultimately deplete more than one-third of the amount in the late customer’s account.
However, Lazarus contends that this portion of the law is intended for situations where the bank doesn’t know the status or whereabouts of an account-holder. But the bank has already acknowledges that it knows the customer is deceased and that he has an heir.
Back in March, shortly after the man passed away, the woman with whom he’d been living for two decades provided the bank, at its request, a copy of his death certificate.
Then came June and a letter from BofA stated that “we’ve closed our case for” the deceased, and that “we have taken appropriate action on the financial relationship based on the information we’ve been provided.” What that means is anyone’s guess.
“I don’t want the money,” she tells Lazarus. “I just want to know how they can get away with this. Why don’t they just hand the money to the state?”
A rep for BofA tells Lazarus that the bank’s policy regarding accounts of deceased customers is to charge no maintenance fees for “up to six months,” with the idea being that the customer’s heirs will have requested the funds by that point.
But the bank only pressed pause for two months in this case, before continuing on with charging the $12 monthly fee.
“It was a mess-up on our part,” says the rep, “but we’ve corrected it.”
The fees that were collected between May and July will be refunded to the account, and BofA has extended the no-fee period until January 2014 in order to give the family time to figure out what to do with the money.
Of course, BofA would not comment when Lazarus asked about the difficulty and cost of actually claiming the money.