By Quentin Fottrell, MarketWatch
I don’t even know where to start but here it goes.
My dad passed away recently. He served our country for 22 years. He was very ill and told no one.
When he died at the hospital in Savannah, Ga., his sister just watched him die, and left me to take care of everything. I had to go to his apartment, take care of his car and find a funeral home in Georgia to transport his body to Puerto Rico, where he will be buried.
At his apartment I found a little card, a very simple card with his sister’s name and also an account number. This card was just a laminated piece of paper. I called the bank, and I was told that his sister was listed as an authorized person on my father’s account. Remember, when my dad died, she left me to take care of everything.
I called her to let her know that there was an account and there was $27,000 in it. She responded to say, “It was your father’s intention to leave me that money.” She says she will be returning to Georgia to collect the money. She paid for the funeral in Georgia, and she paid for the funeral in Puerto Rico, and now she is asking for documents to send them to Veterans Affairs to claim back the money that was spent on these funerals.
The last time I spoke with his sister, she told me that I’m only interested only in his money. That just makes me want to leave it at that, move on, and let her have it. I am his only daughter. Do I have a right to that money even though she was an “authorized person” on his bank account?
I have a theory about why your aunt says you only care about money: She hopes that she will maintain an influential role over you as a senior member of your family and shame you into proving her wrong by walking away from the money in your father’s bank account and, who knows, everything else. Some psychologists might call that “projecting,” given her wish that she receive the $27,000 in your father’s bank account. I am less generous, and prefer to call it a brass neck.
An authorized person on a bank account — if that is indeed what she is — gives someone the power to act on behalf of the owner of that account, such as writing checks. They are NOT a co-owner of the account and do not own anything in the account, so the first thing I would do is inform the bank that your father has died, change any passwords and freeze the account. If your father did not leave a will, YOU are the sole heir to his estate. Your aunt is out of line, and out of facts.
I have one note of caution: Don’t get too hung up on what you did and what your aunt did not do in the aftermath of your father’s death. You showed up, completed your work, and fulfilled your role. You did what any good daughter could and should do: You saw to it that your father had a dignified funeral. It would be a shame to cast a shadow on that service by somehow implying that you have gone above and beyond to do what you would hope your father would have done for you.
This is a great opportunity for you to feel the ground shifting beneath you, and to stand up to your aunt without being unkind or raising your voice, or even listening to your aunt tell you what she thinks of you — her opinions of you are none of your business. You can untether yourself from this unhealthy exchange and relationship. With the help of a family lawyer, petition the court to become the administrator of your father’s estate. Stay humble. Stay grounded. Stay the course.
<STRONG>Quentin Fottrell is MarketWatch’s Moneyist columnist. You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions at email@example.com</STRONG> . Want to read more? Follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter and read more of his columns here.
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