The first indication of trouble was a seeming off-hand remark in a phone call with Loretta’s nephew, “You know, my ( inheritance ) check was not cashed, and I just saw online a couple days ago it’s been returned to the bank.” He felt he was unable to pursue the issue because he was out of town.
Ellie and I looked at each other, “What the … ?” Upon completing the call, we penned an email to our lawyer, who interfaced with Loretta’s Estate Bank for us, asking him to look into it.
He got back to us quickly. “I spoke with ( not real name ) at the bank; all is fine on their end with that check.” This was woefully bad information.
We e-mailed that information to Loretta’s nephew, thinking this would likely all work itself out if nobody did anything more. This was a woefully bad prognostication.
The very next morning I got a secure message from our bank; the
( inheritance ) checks I had deposited six days earlier were being held
( i.e., the funds are not available to me ) and the checks may be returned to the owner. Ellie and I now had the same problem Loretta’s nephew had.
I immediately went to the branch office in our neighborhood and had a uniquely unproductive meeting. “So you are telling me there is a problem with the checks, some person noted this problem and flagged the deposit, and nobody in the bank can say what the problem is until we read a report that will be posted tonight?”
“Yes, that is correct.”
“That’s absurd,” I said, struggling to keep both my demeanor calm and my wits about me.
“Maybe, but that is how it is,” he said. Lowering his voice, he added, “It’s likely got something to do with availability of the funds, … “
Back home I was close to an emotional mess; my wife was the only signatory on that account and it certainly had the funds to cover the distribution checks. However, picking up on what the banker had said in lowered tones, Ellie and I looked at the account’s most recent statement. There it was, a check number different by one from the check written to me, posted for the exact amount of the check written to me. It was the last check on the statement. My mind wondered, “Whom was that made out to?” My visceral reaction was, “You’ve been robbed; fraud! Your lawyer is stealing from you!”
Keeping a lid on my visceral reaction, we penned another email to our lawyer; we asked to see, from the bank, images of all checks from the beginning of the prior month. The response was quick; “The last statement I have from the bank ( which, of course, was the same as ours ) lined up with my records; I put a question in at the bank and expect an answer shortly.”
“Of course, you’d tell us the statement matched your records. Where are the check images?” I couldn’t get my mind off that check written for the same amount as my check.
Then, quickly as they had come, and as out of my control, all thoughts of fraud vanished. I realized there should be another check for the same amount as mine: there was another heir whose percentage of the estate was the same as mine. I breathed easy again, no longer convinced fraud was occurring.
Our lawyer wrote again, telling us the bank had erred, thinking it needed and didn’t have an image of Ellie’s driver’s license. As a result, the bank
( compounding the error ) put a hold on the account, but has now seen its error, removed the hold and all is well.
The bank may have corrected the error, but there are several lingering questions: When our lawyer first asked about this on behalf of Loretta’s nephew, why did ( not real name ) tell him all is fine on their end? Why did the bank fail to notify, as a routine matter, both Ellie ( the owner of the account ) and our lawyer ( to whose office correspondence to Ellie is addressed in care of ) that they had placed a hold on the account?
Good help is hard to find. Good systems must also be hard to find and implement.
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