I'm happy to report that Wells Fargo has changed their minds. I received a letter on Thursday from the Wells Fargo correspondence specialist informing me that Wells Fargo's legal department has changed their decision. Here's an excerpt:
Upon further review of the documentation you provided, our Legal Department has confirmed the POD/ROS Designation form for the Certificate of Deposit (CD) accounts signed by your father can be used to designate you as the beneficiary of CD account ending in ****.
The letter was dated November 10th, so it appears the decision was made before I described my Wells Fargo problem last Sunday.
I decided to hold off on calling this a victory until I actually received the cashier's check from Wells Fargo. I went to my local Wells Fargo branch this morning with the letter, a copy of the CD documents and the death certificate. After 70 minutes, I walked out with the cashier's check for the full amount of my dad's CD (principal and all of the accrued interest).
Recap of the Problem and the Resolution
Here's a quick recap of the problem as I described last Sunday. I was the beneficiary of a Wells Fargo CD that my dad opened in 2010. After my dad passed away in March, I tried to access the CD. I had the document that the Wells Fargo banker had given to my dad which showed me as the beneficiary of this CD. With my ID and my dad's death certificate, I should have been able to close the CD without any penalty and receive a check. However, Wells Fargo's system did not show anyone as the beneficiary on this CD, and they claimed that the document showing me as the beneficiary was invalid. The Wells Fargo banker who opened the CD had apparently used the wrong form.
To access this CD without a beneficiary, we would have to go through the court. According to my attorney this would cost at least $250.
In July I filed a complaint with Wells Fargo's regulator, the Office of the Comptroller of Currency (OCC). The OCC contacted Wells Fargo, and a Wells Fargo correspondence specialist mailed me a letter in August asking for the CD information and documentation. I mailed back a copy of the documents, and waited. In late August I received another letter from Wells Fargo. The correspondence specialist informed me that the CD "document is not valid" and that I could not be designated as the beneficiary. This was the same response I received from the branch manager. I immediately mailed a letter to the OCC stating that I disagreed with the bank's decision. I stressed that it was a Wells Fargo banker who gave the supposed invalid documentation to my dad.
After sending my second letter, I waited. I called the OCC in October and November to check on the status. As I mentioned in my November 13th article, I was becoming less optimistic. After my experience with the NCUA and the Fort Knox CD case, I was thinking that regulators always side with the institutions.
On November 17th, I received my third letter from the Wells Fargo correspondence specialist, and as mentioned above, it was good news. Wells Fargo's legal department changed their minds. The document that my dad received can be used as proof that I am the beneficiary of the CD.
Another Trip to the Wells Fargo Branch
As I mentioned above, I didn't want to call this a victory until I actually had the check in my hand. This morning I went to my local Wells Fargo branch with the letter, a copy of the CD documents and the death certificate. It only took 5 minutes after I entered the branch lobby for a banker to help me, but it then took another 65 minutes before I received the check.
First, the banker had to discuss this issue with the branch manager, and then she had to confirm the letter with the legal department. Just like an outside customer, she was on hold for a while trying to reach the right person.
Once the Wells Fargo banker verified the letter, she then had to override the CD settings in their system. Due to Wells Fargo's mistake, no one was listed as the beneficiary of this CD. If she closed out the CD without this override, the early withdrawal penalty would be applied and the check would be paid to my dad. After about 25 minutes, she was able to override the system and close out the CD without a penalty. That wasn't the end.
She gave me some type of receipt. I then had to wait in line for a teller to exchange the receipt for the cashiers check. That took another 10 minutes.
So after 70 minutes of time at the branch, I finally received the check.
While waiting, I took some time to chat with the branch manager (He was a new manager who wasn't around when I first tried to access the CD.) I asked him how a banker could have used the wrong form in this case. He said that the banker probably just printed out the wrong form.
One more interesting thing came out of my discussion with the branch manager. When he was asking about what bank I used, I told him that a local credit union is my primary "bank". He then admitted to me that he is also a member of that same credit union. As you might expect, he was discreet in this admission.
As I mentioned on Sunday, always double check the beneficiary listings on your bank accounts. Make sure it shows up in the bank's system. It's a lot easier and less costly for your heirs when banks accounts have beneficiaries.
A new lesson from this is that regulators can be useful to consumers. My case is proof that regulators do side with consumers at least sometimes. As I mentioned above, the last letter was mailed to me before my first post on this issue. So it didn't influence Wells Fargo's decision. It seems reasonable to conclude that the OCC was the main factor causing Wells Fargo to change their minds.
If you have been unable to resolve a dispute with a bank or credit union, you should consider filing a complaint to the institution's regulator. I described how to find the appropriate regulator in my post How to File a Complaint Against Your Bank or Credit Union. As my experience has shown, it can be a long process, but it can be worthwhile.
It will be quicker if you can find the right person at the bank that can resolve the issue. As my case shows, it's often not the branch manager. One of the comments in my first post appeared to have been left by a Wells Fargo representative. He provided the email address firstname.lastname@example.org and claimed to have escalated the issue. This contact may be useful for others. Also, a reader in my last post provided this link to a Consumerist article listing the contact information of several Wells Fargo executives.
Thanks to all who provided condolences on my dad's passing and who provided suggestions in my first post on this problem. It's very much appreciated.
I have one more post to write on the CD issues that I experienced after my dad's death. These issues don't involve problems like this Wells Fargo case, but they do involve some interesting issues. I plan to have this post written in the next week.