Many people have made the mistake of giving loved ones electronic access to bank accounts and other financial files. It’s smarter, and gives you more control, if you don’t grant access by sharing your password. Instead, you should exercise your power to choose the right people in your estate plan to serve you when you become incapacitated, choose to resign, or pass away. This way, when the time comes, you are actually granting proper legal authority. Not only will this person, your successor trustee, be responsible for paying your bills, they will also have to account for whatever they spend, per your trust instructions.
When I became Trustee for a 93-year-old, “Doreen” had created her estate plan with her attorney and specifically chose to have a professional trustee, rather than select one of her daughters, Mary, who had been “helping” her for years.
Doreen was having trouble balancing her checkbook, and when she discussed the trouble with her other daughter, Betty, Doreen realized that Mary might have been taking advantage of her. Sure enough, when I marshaled the account, and I asked for the last twelve months of statements, I could see that Doreen had been in the habit of writing a monthly check to Mary for $2000, and there was a monthly electronic transfer of $2000 from Doreen’s account directly to Mary’s account.
Doreen let me know that she had given Mary the UserID and Password to make getting the bills paid “easier”. Doreen was no longer able to track the details. It appears that Mary set up the electronic transfers while sitting next to Doreen at the computer, and then relied on Doreen’s poor memory to double dip into Doreen’s accounts.
When confronted by Doreen’s attorney, Mary said that she thought her Mom had plenty and wouldn’t miss it. Doreen was always generous with her kids, but there is a big difference between making gifts and having money taken from you, right under your nose. Please talk with your estate planning attorney about the best ways to control your funds, and to stay in control.
Marguerite Lorenz, CTFA, CLPF is a Master Trustee and a Managing Partner at Lorenz Private Trustees (MyTrustee.net) and has served as a Trustee and Executor since 2003.