‘I was devastated to find out my husband led a double life’: He had $50,000 in joint bank and bitcoin accounts with his secret girlfriend. Can I claim this money?

Dear Quentin,

After 33 years together in marriage, I was devastated to find out my husband led a double life: One where he was single, and one being married.  

He was an estimator for a paving company and had a lot of free time. With all the hookups he had, he fell in love with one of the women he had been seeing behind my back.

I found six credit cards he had behind my back with payments of over $1,000 each. I found out he was trading bitcoin
BTCUSD,
+0.21%
and making a ton of money.  

He was working on this woman’s house when ours was falling apart. He was buying her things and hanging out with her when he was at “work.”

Apparently, the woman was listed on a bank account and his bitcoin account — totalling over $50,000 at the time of his death. He had no will.  

Do I have any right to these accounts? I’m in Washington State.

Thank you in advance.

The Wife

Dear Wife,

Typically, joint bank accounts are able to avoid probate. But there is legal precedent in Washington State saying that one spouse does not have the right to transfer one-half interest in bank funds to a third party without the knowledge of the other spouse. Thus, the financial institutions should be notified of your husband’s passing, and of your existence.

Washington is a community-property state. As such, everything earned during the marriage is community property in your state, and the probate and divorce courts would look dimly upon those who choose to circumvent those laws. Even if these accounts had rights of survivorship there is a strong case to be made that you own one-half of those accounts ($25,000). 

“In Washington, an account that is simply designated as ‘joint tenancy’ should pass as a joint tenancy with rights of survivorship to the individual(s) listed on the account who survive the deceased account holder,” the Stokes Lawrence law firm says. “However, there is no guarantee, and disagreements over these accounts are frequently ending up in litigation.”

There is legal precedent in Washington State saying that one spouse does not have the right to transfer one-half interest in bank funds to a third party without the knowledge of the other spouse.

It is a surreal and cruel betrayal to discover that someone you believed was one thing turned out to be another. Part of me is hung up on your late husband’s double life, and the other part of me is wondering why estimators for paving companies have a lot of free time. Presumably, because he did not have to be in an office from 9 to 5, and he was on the road a lot. 

I am reminded of the woman whose identity was stolen from a young age. She was trolled by a mysterious villain her entire life. She did everything she could think of to change her passwords, and keep her personal information safe. Only years later did she discover that the person running up bills in her name and creating havoc with debt collectors was her own mother.

That discovery that the person we most believe in has a secret life raises questions about whether we can really know other people or, for that matter, ourselves. If nothing else, this letter is another reminder that people are notoriously unpredictable. I hope you learn to trust again. I believe that there are many, many good people out there to outweigh the bad ones.

Act swiftly. Once your late husband’s girlfriend withdraws money from the account, it will prove more challenging and expensive to retrieve it.

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

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