By Sue Woodman
After Bette Miller had a heart attack in 2005 at age 78 and had to move to an assisted living facility, she decided it was time to cash in the $5,000 bond that she and her husband had bought from a bank in 1984. By now, it was worth around $30,000.
But when Mrs. Miller presented her bond certificate to the bank, the bank refused to pay up. Since then, Mrs. Miller's son and daughter have been battling to have their mother's investment honored.
The Millers had purchased their bond from Rainier National Bank in Monroe, Washington. The bond stipulated that their money would be automatically reinvested after two years, so the couple left it untouched in a safe deposit box. Over the years, Rainier Bank changed hands several times, and was eventually acquired by Bank of America in 1992. But Bank of America says it has no record of the bond transaction and won't pay.
The bond stated that it must be surrendered to receive payment. The fact that she still has it, Mrs. Miller says, is proof that she never got her money. In addition, Bank of America's Senior Vice President of West Coast Media Relations, Colleen Haggerty, concedes that there is no record that the bond had been turned over to the state as unclaimed property -- the usual procedure when money is unaccounted for.
Still, bank officials insist that the onus is on Mrs. Miller to present 20-year-old tax statements to prove her case. The bank itself has no documents dating back more than seven years.
The Miller family has vowed to keep fighting until Bank of America honors the bond.
"A $5,000 bond, you don't throw over your shoulder and forget about it," Mrs. Miller told a local television station. "I'm not going away. I want my money."
"We have a contract," added her son, Greg Miller. "The contract is clearly stated on the face of the bond."
The Millers contacted an elder law attorney who referred them to James Jackson of the Seattle law firm of Reed, Longyear, Malnati, Ahrens and West, who has prepared a lawsuit.
Jackson is optimistic that the Millers will prevail. "Most people generally give up when the bank tells them to find their own records,"Â the attorney told ElderLawAnswers. "But we won't give up."Â He said he expects a resolution soon.
Bank of America's Haggerty issued a statement saying, "This situation may serve as a reminder to keep close track of all investments, especially older accounts."
Jackson recommends that people put all bonds, stocks and other certificates in the hands of their financial advisors. "Putting them in a safe deposit box is never a good idea, particularly in this day and age, when corporations merge and/or breakup so frequently," Jackson said.
Sue Woodman is a freelance writer based in New York City. She is the author of Last Rights: The Struggle Over the Right to Die (Da Capo, 2001).