Dear Liz: When my cousin and I were children more than twenty years ago, my grandparents opened a college savings account for each of us. I have no idea what kind of account this was, or where it was located. My grandfather passed away a few years later. While I was in high school, my grandmother informed me the investments had not done well, and she was closing the accounts. I received a check for $500 at high school graduation that was supposed to be the balance of the account. I assumed my cousin received the same, until she recently posted on a social networking site she was thankful her grandmother started a college fund when she was young that covered the entire cost of her education. I am furious at my grandmother, and now believe both accounts were cashed out and given to my cousin. Without knowing anything about the accounts, except that one was intended for me, is there anyway to find out what actually happened to the money? And would I have legal recourse to try to recoup the money, since my grandfather intended it for me?
Answer: Your cousin has at least two grandmothers. Have you considered the possibility she wasn’t referring to the one you share?
If your cousin left no doubt in her post, there’s still not much you can do. If your grandparents opened custodial accounts, such as Uniform Gifts to Minors Act (UGMA) or Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA) accounts, then legally the money was yours and shouldn’t have been transferred to your cousin, if that’s in fact what happened. But your grandparents simply may have opened accounts in their own names that they informally earmarked for college educations. In that case, they could have done anything they wanted with the money.
Even if you had records proving the money was yours and it was wrongfully transferred, the idea of taking legal action against a family member should give you some pause. Since you have no such records, you’re pretty much at a dead end. You can ask your grandmother about this, or simply let the matter rest as one of the mysteries of family life and move on with your own.