Problem Solved: If he dies, I’m afraid Wells Fargo will keep my money
The bank says I can’t be both power of attorney and beneficiary.
By CHRISTOPHER ELLIOTT, KING FEATURES SYNDICATE, INC. |
PUBLISHED: September 16, 2018 at 6:00 am | UPDATED: September 17, 2018
at 4:33 am
Q: My husband and I keep our finances separate. He banks at Wells Fargo;
I bank at Bank of America and Chase.
Christopher Elliott, the Travel Troubleshooter ...
Recently we have decided to make sure that each of us has the
appropriate beneficiaries and powers of attorney on our accounts. We met
with a Wells Fargo banker at a branch in Tucson, Arizona, who gave me
power of attorney on my husband’s accounts, but took me off as the beneficiary, since the banker said that I could not be both.
The Wells Fargo banker assured me that the power of attorney designation
trumps the beneficiary and that the durable power of attorney will
provide access to the accounts even after my husband dies. However,
through my research, I recognized that these designations are different
and that a power of attorney ceases once the person dies. When my
husband passes away, there is no provision for me under the power of
attorney designation to have access to these accounts.
My husband and I went to another Wells Fargo Branch to rectify the
problem. During that session, the Wells Fargo branch manager confirmed
that I could, in fact, be the power of attorney and the payable-on-death beneficiary. However, the Wells Fargo systems can’t accommodate two designations, so they advised me to continue as the power of attorney
and made permanent notes in the system that I was the beneficiary.
A Wells Fargo representative said I could not receive this in writing,
nor could I take a photo of the permanent notes screen. Although I
confirmed the situation in an email, I remain uncomfortable with this non-formal arrangement. I would like to continue to be both the power of attorney and beneficiary, and have it designated as such in a written
document from Wells Fargo on Wells Fargo letterhead. Can you help me
with my beneficiary problem?
Sherri Dreier, Tucson, Arizona
A: Before I answer your question, I’d like to congratulate you and your husband for keeping your finances separate. That’s such a smart thing to
do, and I wish more couples would follow your lead.
You’re right — a power of attorney and a beneficiary designation are not the same thing. Wells Fargo should have offered a way to have both of
them on your husband’s account when you asked for help. The trouble, it seems, is technological. In an email to you, Wells Fargo noted that
while it showed both designations in its internal system, it could not
reflect your status externally, in your account.
And before you say: “Shouldn’t a big bank like Wells Fargo be able to do that?” let me tell you about my experience of opening a bank account for
my nonprofit organization. Oh, the bureaucracy! Wells Fargo has an
online department that can handle your application, or you can visit a
branch in person to apply for an account, but the two don’t share
information on applications. What should have taken just an hour
stretched into several weeks, as both departments bickered over which
one should handle my request.
The shortcut? A brief, polite email to one of the Wells Fargo executive contacts I list on my consumer-advocacy site: https://www.elliott.org/company-contacts/wells-fargo/. Your beneficiary
problem is something the bank should be able to take care of with
minimum hassle. Unfortunately, that didn’t work for you.
I contacted Wells Fargo on your behalf. In response, you received a
letter from them stating that you have power of attorney and are the beneficiary on your husband’s accounts. I hope Wells Fargo addresses
this issue soon. I can’t imagine you are the only one with a beneficiary problem.
Christopher Elliott’s latest book is “How To Be The World’s Smartest Traveler” (National Geographic). You can get real-time answers to any consumer question on his forum, elliott.org/forum, or by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Christopher Elliott, King Features Syndicate, Inc. Consumer advocate Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler
magazine and the author of "How to Be the World's Smartest Traveler."
You can read his blog at elliott.org or email him at email@example.com.