My mother recently passed away, leaving me as the sole beneficiary of her small IRA ($3000) at Fidelity Investments. I had been the caregiver of my parents for the past 7+ years, and took care of all their financial matters (no POA, but always with their knowledge and consent). My dad is also deceased. My sister was not aware that I was the sole beneficiary. I contacted Fidelity to inform them of mom's death, and they referred me to their "Inheritor Services" office. My sister contacted that office, and was given information on the account over the phone, including the balance, and information on the withdrawals that were made prior to mom passing (exact amounts and exact dates - a total of $9000). With that information, she has made my life hell, accusing me of stealing from my mother (to my mother's best friend and to my best friend), and harrassing me to the point that I may have to get a restraining order against her and her husband. Yesterday she also told me that Fidelity had faxed her copies of the financial statements. Do I have a cause of action against Fidelity? If so, how do I proceed?
Country relating to Question: United States
Have not found an attorney in my small town who has knowledge of such situations.
Hello, I will be happy to assist you. However, I do need some additional information first. What state does this concern? Thanks.
Oops! Wisconsin is the state.
Thanks for that information. I will now be happy to provide an answer to your question. Please keep in mind that although I am an attorney, I cannot provide legal advice - I can only give you information concerning the legal issues raised by your question. After receiving your answer, please let me know if you need clarification (or if I misunderstood and didn't address your question).
Most states, including Wisconsin, don't have laws explicitly recognizing the right to financial privacy, so it is generally quite expensive to file that type of suit under state law (assuming you could even prove a right to privacy with regard to that information). Thus, suing someone for violation of the financial privacy right that might be provided under state law is generally not a viable option -- it's just too speculative and too expensive.
Federal law does provide some protection of the information. However, enforcement of the privacy protections are solely by the government. In other words, even if a financial institution discloses financial information to a third party that is not authorized to receive that information, the person whose rights are violated does not have the legal right to sue the financial institution. The only recourse is to let the federal trade commission know there has been a violation and let them enforce the law.
This federal protection is provided by the Gramm Leach Bleley Act. Here is a link that discusses that law.
Here is also a brief summary from research I have previously conducted:
The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, codified at 15 U.S.C. § 6801 et seq., states that "a financial institution may not ... disclose to a nonaffiliated third party any nonpublic personal information, unless such financial institution provides or has provided to the customer a notice that complies with section 503 [15 U.S.C. § 6803]." 15 U.S.C. § 6802(a).
The act further states,
A financial institution may not disclose nonpublic personal information to a nonaffiliated third party unless ... such financial institution clearly and conspicuously disclosed to the consumer ... that such information may be disclosed to such third party[,] ... the consumer is given the opportunity ... to direct that such information not be disclosed to such third party[,] ... and the consumer is given an explanation of how the consumer can exercise that nondisclosure option.
Id. at § 6802(b)(1)(A)-(C).
The notice referenced above must be given "[a]t the time of establishing a customer relationship ... and not less than annually [thereafter]." Id. at § 6803(a).
The notice shall pertain to the following, among other things: the disclosure of "nonpublic personal information to affiliates and nonaffiliated third parties." Id. at § 6803(a)(1).
A nonaffiliated third party is defined as "any entity that is not an affiliate of, or related by common ownership or affiliated by corporate control with, the financial institution, but does not include a joint employee of such institution." Id. at § 6809(5).
Nonpublic personal information is defined as "personally identifiable financial information ... provided by a consumer to a financial institution [,] ... resulting from any transaction with the consumer or any service performed for the consumer[,] or ... otherwise obtained by the financial institution." Id. at § 6809(4).
I know your situation is extremely frustrating and should have not ever happened, but the best you can do is make a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (unless you are okay with spending a great deal of time and money filing a suit against the institution for violation of your financial privacy, which has only speculative merits under state law).
You can file a complaint here:
As noted above, if you need clarification, please do let me know.
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Wills, Trusts, Probate & other Estate Matters
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