My question involves criminal law for the state of: Not sure - the parties involved are all in different states
Tried posting this on the estate forum but only received one very brief reply. That may have been the wrong forum to post this. I am hoping to get some insight as to whether I could file criminal or civil charges, and if so, where, how, against what party or parties, etc.
This question involves my Dad's Living Trust. It was created in 1992, at which time he was unmarried, so he named he and I as co-trustees. In 1998 he got married, and his new wife made him (he told me that she threatened to throw him out if he didn't) change his trust twice, in 1998 and then again in 2000. Each time it designated more for her and less for my brother and I (my Dad's only two children). In the most recent version of the trust in 2000, she was named as a successor trustee and I was named as a successor to her. There were no co-trustees named. If I could prove that he was coerced into signing these revised trust documents, I would, but I have been told that is almost impossible to prove.
The majority (95%) of my Dad's assets were held, in the name of the trust, in a brokerage account at a large mutual fund company. This account had mutual funds, as well as a cash account with a debit card and a checking account. In 2004 my Dad called me and was very concerned. He told me that he believed that his wife was writing checks on his investment account and that she was not authorized to do so. As successor trustee, she had no right to write checks, use the debit card or access this account in any way unless my Dad was incapacitated or deceased. Because he had a physical disability that sometimes affected his ability to speak clearly, he asked me to call the mutual fund company to let them know about this, which I did. Basically they reviewed the account and the checks that had cleared recently, and yes they admitted that some of the signatures appeared to be someone's other than my Dad's. Actually she was not signing my Dad's name, but she was rather signing her own name to the checks, for example, either as "Mrs. John Doe", or "Mrs. Jane Doe". She was also using the debit card. I was basically told that they would review and monitor the situation and I relayed this information to my Dad. This conversation is on record with the mutual fund company, as I called them recently to see if they had a record of it.
My Dad was declared incompetent in early 2006 and passed away in May 2008. In March of 2008 the trust administration was turned over to a professional trustee, which is another matter altogether. No disbursements have yet been made. I did not think much about this subject again until after my Dad died and I found out what was left in his brokerage account. It had decreased significantly from what it was in 2000. I was able to get copies of all of the checks that were written on his account from 1999 through 2008. His wife had written checks from 2001 through 2008 on this account, without having any authorization to do so. It is possible that she did obtain authorization after he was declared incompetent in 2006, but if so, that would have been for only about 18 months. And even if that was the case, wouldn't she still have had some obligation to protect the trust assets and not write checks from it for her personal use?
My brother and I feel that it was wrong of her to write these checks, as well as wrong of the mutual fund company to allow checks to clear that were signed by someone who was not an authorized account holder and did not sign a signature card. Because we are beneficiaries of the trust, we feel that we have suffered a financial loss and distress, both because of her actions and because of the mutual fund company allowing this to happen.
I feel like there must be some legal recourse, however I don't know where to start. I located the mutual fund company's policy online, which states that unauthorized check writing falls under the guidelines of the bank that they use to handle their checking accounts. Would the banking commission be of help here? Is a financial institution responsible for verifying that a check is signed by an authorized user, and are they liable when they do not verify this information? I don't have much money to spend on attorneys, unless someone would take this on contingency. Would a lawsuit be initiated against her, or against the mutual fund company, or both? I don't even know what type of attorney to contact, or in which state. The trust was established in South Carolina, however I live in another state and the mutual fund company is in a completely different state, so I am not even sure where to begin. Is the check writing by my Dad's wife considered criminal activity? And is there anyone who would really care if it was, or is this stuff generally considered a family matter? Somehow I can't imagine law enforcement having the time or desire to get involved in this. She was also having his SS checks deposited into her own checking account that did not even have his name on it (only hers), which I believe is against SS regulations. Thank you in advance for any suggestions.