When an elder is declared financially incompetent, someone has to take over and pay the bills. This is usually delegated to either a trustee or a conservator. Once that person has been delegated, he or she is going to find out that they are in for one long headache after another. However, there are a few things that can be done.
What Happened: The cell phone company couldn’t close the account because they couldn’t contact the phone itself. The phone couldn’t be contacted because the batteries were dead. We couldn’t charge the battery because we couldn’t find where our elder put the charger. None of the retail stores could charge the battery because it was too old.
The salespeople at the stores told us to contact customer service via phone. We did. They couldn’t help us for all of the above reasons…even if we faxed them the papers showing trusteeship. They said we had to take them into a corporate store.
The people at the corporate store rolled their eyes. Not because they were being bad customer service personnel, but because this happens all of the time and *they can’t fix it.* Not according to company protocol anyway. In fact, I found that family members of a deceased costumer had the same problem. A death certificate isn’t enough to close the account.
The Not So Good Solution: They couldn’t tell us anything about the account, but they could change the security question and the password, which they did. We took that home and closed the account as if it was our own account. None of us liked that solution.
What Should Have Happened: We’ve been doing this for over a year with every account our elder has had. This is the last account to finally be taken care of. This is what should have been requested, and if you find yourself at the beginning of your quest it’s what you need to know:
Identify Yourself: The company will want your name, phone number and address. They will want to know how you are related to the customer. They need to be told that you are a trustee or conservator. They should not require more information than that about yourself.
Identify the Customer: They will want the above information about the customer. They will want the account number. They may ask for a password, the last four digits of the customer’s social security number and/or the answer to a security question. They shouldn’t ask for more than that.
Proof: They will need documentation to prove that you are who you say you are and that you have the authority to handle the account. Usually that involves faxing documents to them. We have the documents arranged in a few different ways because not all companies want the same thing.
Many demand to see the entire living trust. There are two things to keep in mind here; that document has a lot of personal information and not just about your relative. There’s usually plenty of your own personal information in there. If possible, take the document and let them copy only the appropriate portion. If the company won’t do that, insist on a dedicated, secure fax machine.
If it is a conservatorship, the court documents will suffice and they aren’t as sensitive as an entire living trust. They are still sensitive, so demand proper security measures be taken.
Some asked for the letter(s) of incompetency. This is logical, but again it is private information. Make sure it is going to be treated that way. A few wanted the letter from Social Security naming the trustee.
The cell phone company *should* have followed a protocol similar to that. It isn’t that the people in customer service aren’t trying to do their job. It’s that the company does not have proper procedures set up for this scenario. Hopefully they will soon develop it.