The Moneyist: My elderly stepfather and his pastor opened a bank account together. Is this normal?


Dear Moneyist,

My 83-year-old mother is not in the best of health. She handles her finances, and manages her property. My mother’s has been married to “John” for 48 years. John appears to have learning difficulties.

The pastor of John’s church opened a bank account, and had John add his name. John will do almost anything for his pastor. I advised my mother to call the bank to see if John (or her) would be financially responsible if the pastor were to write checks, and not make good on the funds. 

My mother did call the bank and was told yes, she and John would be responsible. My mother and John have a house together in California. My concern is that the pastor — knowing John’s mental state — is taking advantage of John, and may cause my mother to end up being in a financial hole. 

My advice to my mom is to try to obtain some type of document stating John cannot legally sign any document which can jeopardize their assets without her knowledge. 

Can this be done? Is this normal?

Please help.

Flabbergasted Stepson

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at [email protected], and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.

Dear Stepson,

No, it’s not normal. If this pastor wanted to help your stepfather manage his finances he should not go behind the backs of his wife and stepson. Also, he’s a pastor — not a financial adviser. Not a CPA. He’s not even a lawyer or a doctor. Something ain’t right. We don’t know whether the pastor’s intentions are, well, honorable, but he should not have this much clout in your stepfather’s life, especially if he has a learning disability. 

What is normal? This is not the first time that a man of the cloth decided to take advantage of this position. In 2015, a priest in Detroit opened a secret — obviously — bank account and deposited $420,000 bequeathed to the parish by a late member of his congregation. He helped himself to another $43,000 of parishioners’ money. A monsignor in New Jersey also stole nearly $64,000  in a similar case a few years earlier by opening a secret bank account.

Talk to your stepfather — what is the purpose of this account? — consult with his doctor and have his cognitive abilities and mental health evaluated. Call and write to the bank and alert them to your concerns — the bank’s response to your mother was woefully inadequate. You and/or your mother may wish to file for guardianship over your stepfather’s affairs. 

If there are any signs of elder financial abuse, report the pastor in question to the police and his church — and in that order. Unfortunately, some religious institutions have a long history of preferring to deal with crimes privately, and have in the past held great sway in convincing members of their congregation that everything will be taken care of. 

Older Americans with disabilities are vulnerable to fraud, according to the American Bankers Association: “Advances in technology can also make it difficult for seniors to know who to trust and what’s safe. Despite these threats, taking simple steps to safeguard personal information and being aware of warning signs can protect aging men and women from financial abuse.”

Godspeed. And let us know how you get on.

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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. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

The Moneyist regrets he cannot reply to questions individually.

More from Quentin Fottrell:

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