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The Moneyist: My dying father gave his girlfriend his debit card to buy food — and she kept on spending

This man’s son wonders what his options are after large sums of money went missing. Read More...

Dear Moneyist,

While my father was on his deathbed, he gave his debit card to his girlfriend to buy him something to eat. He was obviously not in the right state of mind. I was not there for this and found out some time later.

Since then, his girlfriend has slowly been emptying his bank accounts of all the money. I have looked at the Massachusetts intestate laws and see that his first living heirs have a right to his bank accounts: his wife (my mother) and myself (his son).

If I contact the bank on this issue they will surely be able to pull up transactions and see that the money has been spent during and after his death which would be suspicious, correct? I do not care for his girlfriend and would not care if she got jail time.

What do you think?


Dear C.D.,

I hope you contacted your father’s bank as soon as you sent this email, if not before. Your father’s girlfriend is stealing from your dad’s estate and she should be stopped. The bank should know ASAP he has passed away. However, you may have more difficulty retrieving the money that this woman took from his bank to date because your father gave her the card and authorized her to use it.

A lawyer would give you more context on this case, and your options. If your father was not of sound mind, it could be argued that he was the victim of elder abuse. Read more about that here. On the one hand, this is a more complicated case than one of mere stolen identity. On the other, you have no emotional ties to this woman and should report her to the police without any hesitation.

Don’t miss: Do I attract bad guys? Three husbands and one boyfriend tried to steal my money

A bank is more likely to support a customer in a case of stolen identity where someone actually steals a credit card or credit-card information. That wasn’t quite what happened here. What’s more, debit cards also have less protection than credit cards. If you wait more than 60 days to report disputed charges on a stolen or lost card, you may be on the hook for them all.

The most bizarre case I’ve come across is that of professor Axton Betz-Hamilton who, for most of her life, never suspected the woman she trusted most was stealing her identity: her own mother. Her mother racked up $500,000 in debt over her lifetime using her daughter’s personal information to take out credit cards in her name. The identity theft began when she was only 11 years of age.

She won a national award for her research on identity theft in 2012 and was accompanied to the ceremony by the person who was behind her 16-year ordeal. “She did not want a funeral and did not want an obituary,” she told me. “I believe that was because she wanted to continue to hide what she was doing and was afraid someone would recognize her.” Take heart: it could always be worse.

See also: Millions of Americans keep this dirty secret from their partner

That said, I’m sorry your father trusted this woman with his debit card, and I’m saddened that you didn’t take immediate action when you discovered her fraud. Stopping her in her tracks is the best course of action you have, for now. As with Betz-Hamilton, sometimes the discovery of a theft comes too late. But you have a chance to put a lid on the collateral financial damage.

If there was a silver lining here — and there may be — hopefully your late father’s girlfriend did not manage to steal too much, and the rest of your father’s estate is intact. His house, included. Most of all, I hope she brought him some happiness when he was alive and, this may be very optimistic, I trust that she treated him well and that he was not aware of her deception when he was alive.

Do you have questions about inheritance, tipping, weddings, family feuds, friends or any tricky issues relating to manners and money? Send them to MarketWatch’s Moneyist and please include the state where you live (no full names will be used).

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Hello there, MarketWatchers. Check out the Moneyist private Facebook group, where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas: inheritance, wills, divorce, tipping, gifting. I often talk to lawyers, accountants, financial advisers and other experts, in addition to offering my own thoughts. I receive more letters than I could ever answer, so I’ll be bringing all of that guidance — including some you might not see in these columns — to this group. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

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