How to solve a beneficiary problem with your Wells Fargo bank account

Can Christopher solve her beneficiary problem with Wells Fargo?

Why won’t Wells Fargo list Sherri Dreier as a beneficiary on her husband’s Wells Fargo bank account? This consumer advocate wades into a sea of red tape to find out.

Question

My husband and I keep our finances separate. He banks at Wells Fargo; I bank at Bank of America and Chase.

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Recently we have decided to make sure that each of us has the appropriate beneficiaries and power of attorney on our accounts. We met with a Wells Fargo banker at a branch in Tucson, Ariz., that 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.

Why can’t Wells Fargo quickly fix our beneficiary problem?

My husband and I went to another Wells Fargo Branch to rectify the above beneficiary 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 quite uncomfortable with this non-formal documented 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, Ariz.

Answer

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 with your beneficiary problem.

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.

Fixing your beneficiary problem

The shortcut? A brief, polite email to one of the Wells Fargo executive contacts I list on my consumer advocacy site. Your beneficiary problem is something the bank should be able to take care of with a minimum of hassle. Unfortunately, that didn’t work for you.

I contacted Wells Fargo on your behalf. In response, you received a letter from Wells Fargo that states 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.

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