I. Question Presented
How can the conserved funds belonging to a beneficiary be retrieved from a Connecticut
bank account after the death of the representative payee who established the account
on behalf of the beneficiary?
II. Short Answer
In order to access the funds, the new representative payee must go to a Wells Fargo
branch personally and present: (1) the death certificate of the former representative
payees; and (2) a letter of appointment from the agency identifying him as the new
representative payee for the beneficiary.
Linda served as the representative payee for Christine until Linda’s death. In that
capacity, Linda opened a conserved funds account at Wells Fargo (RTN ~; ACCT ~), which
received (and continues to receive) direct deposits of Christine’s Social Security
benefits. This bank account is titled “Christine, Linda Representative Payee.” Based
on a recent bank statement, that account contained $20,088.98. After Linda’s death,
the beneficiary’s brother, Richard, was appointed as her new representative payee.
When contacted by the agency, Wells Fargo refused to release any information concerning
the account, citing privacy restrictions, and refused to return the funds to the agency.
The beneficiary’s new representative payee has been maintaining the beneficiary without
access to her benefits, but cannot continue do so for much longer.
IV. Applicable Law
20 C.F.R. § 404.2045 provides, in pertinent part, that
After the representative payee has used benefit payments consistent with the guidelines
in this subpart (see § 404.2040 regarding use of benefits), any remaining amount shall
be conserved or invested on behalf of the beneficiary. Conserved funds should be invested
in accordance with the rules followed by trustees. Any investment must show clearly
that the payee holds the property in trust for the beneficiary.
Agency guidance directs that those conserved funds “must be deposited in an account
that is titled to show the payee has only a fiduciary interest in the funds” and that
“[f]unds deposited by a fiduciary on behalf of a beneficiary are owned by the beneficiary.” POMS GN 00603.110A.
Under Connecticut law, share accounts held in trust for another must be established
according to certain rules. See Conn. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 36a-296 (2014). For example, the despositor must provide
the bank “with the name and a residential address for the beneficiary, upon establishing
the deposit or share account or thereafter at the request of the bank.” Conn. Gen.
Stat. Ann. § 36a-296(a)(1) (2014). The statute also provides that the despositor “may”
provide a writing specifying the terms of the trust and that, unless such writing
specifies to the contrary, “it shall be conclusively presumed” that the despositor
intends to create a trust that follow certain specified terms. Id. As relevant here:
if the named beneficiary survives the despositor or share account holder, the despositor’s
or share account holder’s death shall terminate the trust and title to the deposit
account or share account, subject to any membership restrictions for Connecticut credit
unions or federal credit unions, shall thereupon vest in the named beneficiary free
and clear of the trust.
Conn. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 36a-296(a)(1)(C) (2014). Thus, unless the despositor provided
a writing that specified to the contrary, Wells Fargo must conclusively presume that
the balance of the account is owned by the named beneficiary on death of the despositor.
The account in question was established in accordance with POMS GN 00603 because it
was titled in the beneficiary’s name and identified Linda as the “representative payee.”
Under Connecticut law, when the despositor of an account held in trust for another
individual, predeceases the beneficiary, the legal presumption is that the trust terminates
and the account funds belong to the beneficiary, free and clear. Conn. Gen. Stat.
Ann. § 36a-296(a)(1)(C) (2014).
Since the beneficiary now has a new representative payee, we contacted the branch
manager of the Wells Fargo branch that the agency initially contacted, to determine
how the funds could be accessed by the new representative. After consulting with Wells
Fargo’s legal department, the branch manager informed us that the new representative
payee may replace the deceased representative payee on the beneficiary’s account if
he appears at any Wells Fargo branch and presents two pieces of evidence: (1) the
death certificate of Linda, the former representative payee; and (2) an official letter
or notice of appointment from the agency naming Richard as the successor representative
payee. If Richard presents this evidence, Wells Fargo will replace Linda’s name with
Richard’s on the account, permitting him access to the funds as the new representative
In order to replace the former representative payee on the beneficiary’s account,
the new representative payee must appear at a Wells Fargo branch and present the death
certificate of the former representative payee and an official letter or notice from
the agency demonstrating his appointment as the new representative payee.
Assistant Regional Counsel