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The Case of the Missing Money
August 16, 2010 1:14 PM   Subscribe

Old Tax Mystery: I found some folders of taxes done in 1994,1995, and 1996. i was 16 in 1994. These folders contain statements for some custodial accounts, some of them for very large sums.

I called the one firm and they don't have anything listed under the account number or my social. The custodian on the account (my grandmother, tho she legally adopted me so she is technically my mother) has alzheimers. My uncle has power of attorney. I cannot go ask him this because of all sorts of family drama.

How do I find out if the accounts were closed? Is it possible she or my uncle just took the money out? I have never received anything approaching the sums on these statements.

I kinda figure the money's not there anymore. But I'm more curious about custodial accounts work. Was the custodiain required to give me the money at some point? I have never signed anything that I know of that was relinquishing my rights to the accounts.

I know the answer is call a lawyer? a CPA? I'm not sure who the right type of person is to ask. Or what questions to ask.

The only thing I do remember is that my grandmother (adopted mom) was freaking livid beyond reason that colleges and the FAFSA needed financial info about them when I was applying to schools. I mean so unreasonable that my birth mom brought it up yesterday when I was asking her about the financial statements. She has no idea what they are. There are no other family members.

Can someone explain better what the legal meaning is of the custodian account stuff? Googling confuses me. I need a kindergarten explanation.

And then can someone also tell me what kind of lawyer/CPA/other expert to contact to investigate?

Thanks!
posted by sio42 to Work & Money (32 answers total) 54 users marked this as a favorite
 
If you wanted to talk to a lawyer you'd probably contact a trusts and estates lawyer, preferably one with some family law experience. They'll almost certainly know some CPAs if it becomes necessary to have one look over the records.
posted by jedicus at 1:20 PM on August 16, 2010


My vague understanding is that if it was a custodial account you were due the money. I'd talk to a lawyer specializing in this type of thing or a forensic accountant. But money in a custodial account is yours and the custodians damn well better be able to show where the money went. The only problem may be that you took so long to do anything about it. However given you just found out, I don't know. You need to see a specialist.
posted by An algorithmic dog at 1:21 PM on August 16, 2010


Can you tell us more about what kind of account it was? For instance, did it mention something about the Uniform Gifts (or Trusts) to Minors Act?

Under the UGMA, the money should have been turned over to your custody at age 21. Failure to do so -- or to honor the terms of any other trust instrument -- would have been a breach of fiduciary duty. So too would have been any effort to convert money in your account to any other purpose, including to pay for your expenses.

In any event, it is absolutely critical that you maintain copies of all these tax records and any trading slips or anything else related to the account. Not only will they help you reconstruct the original state of your portfolio, they will also assist in paying any capital gains taxes that may be owed once everything is sorted out.

I would consult with a trusts attorney immediately.
posted by gabrielsamoza at 1:24 PM on August 16, 2010


whoa - forensic accountant! i'd watch that show! CSI: Accounting!

if they records are so old they are not in the firm's archives, what happens then? is that where forensic accountancy comes in?

do they subpoeana the custodian for records showing the money was given to me? can they just say "oh well, we bought her clothes" or something? or did it have to be dispersed in a lump sum, not just tiny withdrawals for here and there.
posted by sio42 at 1:26 PM on August 16, 2010


yes, the account says

Mom Lastname C/F
Sio42 Lastname UGMA/ (something else, maybe PA?) not with me right now.

all these things are in folder for each year because the taxes were done by a CPA. that is the only info i have. the end of year statements and whatever releveant documents for taxes are in there.

i'm hesitant to contact the CPA. i remember that each year, my grandmother and this woman would sit me down and have me sign a bunch of papers that were in these same white folders. my grandfather was never around for this, which i always thought was strange.
posted by sio42 at 1:30 PM on August 16, 2010


A quick google search says that expenses are not supposed to be paid out of custodial accounts. If the sums involved are large enough to get lawyers involved they absolutely should have records.
posted by An algorithmic dog at 1:30 PM on August 16, 2010


so if i would have gotten this money, i would have signed papers and such, right? it wouldn't have just been a personal check for a few thousand.

what other "terms of trust instrument" would have meant i did NOT get the money? anything?
posted by sio42 at 1:32 PM on August 16, 2010


Just read your last post: you absolutely need to contact a lawyer that does not sound kosher at all. Do you remember what the papers said? That CPA with any luck will have some sort of papers, but you need to contact a lawyer asap so that no documents get destroyed. The 90's were a long time ago.
posted by An algorithmic dog at 1:32 PM on August 16, 2010


i know. ok, her business card is in the folder.

she would only have to have kept the records for 7 years tho, right?
or is it different with different documents?

in fact, i'm giong to google her and call her right now.
posted by sio42 at 1:34 PM on August 16, 2010


You really, really, really need to contact a lawyer to get anywhere with this.

Get off the computer.

Call a lawyer.
posted by dfriedman at 1:35 PM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


No. Don't call her. Let your lawyer call her. For all you know if there is fraud involved she knew.
posted by An algorithmic dog at 1:35 PM on August 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Let me reiterate in case you haven't figured it out: if they did not pay you then this is not some minor dispute this is likely a criminal case. You can not navigate this by yourself. For all we know those papers they made you sign said that they paid you. You *need* a lawyer and should not talk to anyone until you speak to one.
posted by An algorithmic dog at 1:42 PM on August 16, 2010


couldn't find her number.

still at work, but just left message with attorney friend to recommend me a estate attorney like recommended above.

he didn't know where i should start which is why he couldn't help me more with this without me turning to mefi.

i'm glad you folks are so knowledgeable!!!
posted by sio42 at 1:42 PM on August 16, 2010


Since this was a UGMA account, the first thing you'll want to do is get a full accounting of what happened to the assets. This can be complicated because 1. it was the custodian and not you who is the authorized account-holder, and 2. a lot of old records never made it into brokerage houses databases when they started switching over.

By way of example: I received some money in a UGMA account when I was 21, but years later I needed access to the old accounts to get some tax information. It was a huge pain in the ass and required me to deal with my estranged father. It wasn't worth it to me to hire someone to handle it, but in your case it definitely would be since the lawyer is going to have lots of other work to do on your behalf.

Don't contact any CPA or anyone else involved in this. They won't be able to help since their client was the custodian not you.
posted by gabrielsamoza at 1:44 PM on August 16, 2010


An algorithmic dog - thanks for pointing that out - i wasn't thinking of it in terms of minor dispute vs criminal. i was just thinking the money is sitting somewhere and they just give it to me.

my real name is not associated with this, so i'm guessing ok to leave as is so i can answer. if not, i'll ask mod to anon it.
posted by sio42 at 1:44 PM on August 16, 2010


Not to be nosey, but please update this thread if you're able to (as in your lawyer says it is okay).
posted by geoff. at 1:44 PM on August 16, 2010


so if i would have gotten this money, i would have signed papers and such, right? it wouldn't have just been a personal check for a few thousand.

Indeed. If the stocks were held in certificate form, they would have been turned over to you with the custodian's endorsement on the back. If they were held in book/electronic form, you would have had paperwork relating to the transfer from one account to another.
posted by gabrielsamoza at 1:46 PM on August 16, 2010


sio42: I personally know a case where the CPA (acting as a controller) was the one stealing money. Hence you really don't know who you can trust except that there is a large sum of money missing. Trust no one. That includes family. You don't accidentally forget to pay someone a large sum of money.
posted by An algorithmic dog at 1:46 PM on August 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


geoff. - will do. i can see how this might not be the only time someone has this problem.

so just to make sure i understand, a UGMA account is a big freaking deal. and if they cashed it out by having me sign something i didn't understand but then say they "gave" it to me over time when i needed financial help, that was wrong of them, legally?
posted by sio42 at 1:47 PM on August 16, 2010


and if they cashed it out by having me sign something i didn't understand but then say they "gave" it to me over time when i needed financial help, that was wrong of them, legally?
IANAL but according to google this is not kosher. In my mind the question in this case is not if they did something wrong but if they did something criminal. The FASFA question raises major red flags too. Having known someone who had to deal with embezzlement from their business your case raises every red flag I know.
posted by An algorithmic dog at 1:50 PM on August 16, 2010


and if they cashed it out by having me sign something i didn't understand but then say they "gave" it to me over time when i needed financial help, that was wrong of them, legally?

Can you tell us more about the circumstances when this happened? How old were you? Do you remember anything about what the document said, what they promised you? Do you have a copy of it?
posted by gabrielsamoza at 1:52 PM on August 16, 2010


oh. wow. that gives me chills.
posted by sio42 at 1:53 PM on August 16, 2010


I'm going to suggest you not post exact details because your posting records could be used in court. Only a lawyer can help you. Lawyers are made for situations like this.
posted by An algorithmic dog at 1:55 PM on August 16, 2010


[few comments removd - OP is not anonymous, feel free to MeMail them if you need to have a sidebar discussion]
posted by jessamyn at 2:00 PM on August 16, 2010


ok. lawyer friend is contacting guy who does this sort of law for a living. i might be able to see him this evening yet.

thanks for all the replies. no idea this was such a huge deal.
posted by sio42 at 2:04 PM on August 16, 2010


No. Don't call her. Let your lawyer call her. For all you know if there is fraud involved she knew.

Another who says "don't call her." Let an attorney representing your best interests do so.
posted by ericb at 2:09 PM on August 16, 2010


I don't understand. You are now 32 years old and you don't know whether you were given a large sum of money at age 18?
posted by megatherium at 3:36 PM on August 16, 2010


Just so the OP knows he's not alone.

This happened to Ms. Yuck. Her mother, a successful model, died shortly after childbirth and left her quite a large savings account. Dad and new Stepmom took as much as they could out of it. Like the OP, we found out much later when some old records were accidentally sent to us with a bunch of old photos. Photos of Mercedes, people in fur coats with Rolexes- That kind of stuff.

"How'd your Dad afford all that stuff? Hmm. Oh look, this is your mothers will!" We drank a whole bottle of angry bourbon that night and still felt sober.

It took about a year to figure out all the details. We didn't do anything except set off a complete shitstorm inside the family. The parties responsible have been shunned by the rest of the family.

This is not going to be fun, sio42. You must feel a little ill right now, as odd memories start to make sense. Take care of yourself.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 3:49 PM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


i can't really answer anything specifically.

but will say, i do feel a little ill as odd memories start to make sense, as Mr. Yuck puts it.

LOTS of stuff makes more sense now.

*sigh*

i will hear back from atty tomorrow and ask him i can say anything. if we dont pursue anything, i guess i will be able to .
posted by sio42 at 7:54 PM on August 16, 2010


Before you decide on legal action -- or against legal action -- I'd take a few weeks after being informed of your options to think on it. This stuff happened a long time ago. You can afford a few days to think about it after you're well informed of your legal options. Generally speaking you do no harm by doing nothing while you collect yourself & the information.

But I am not a lawyer.
posted by countrymod at 10:56 AM on August 17, 2010


Please keep us updated as your attorney will allow you!
posted by Blasdelb at 9:03 PM on August 23, 2010


just an update here...the company the biggest account was with only has records 7 years back. and they have absolutely nothing on file about my account at. all.

lawyer can't really do anything without it costing lots of money and without the surety of a return, not really ready to go that route.

lawyer suggested that i try to find out about the smaller accounts, if i can figure out what happened to them then he might be able to put a letter together requesting that the guardians of the account provide an accounting.


so, no windfall and still a mystery.
posted by sio42 at 8:17 AM on September 7, 2010


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