Bank sits on woman's home insurance check

August 25, 2011 8:27:15 PM PDT
What would you do if the bank was sitting on $25,000 of your money? That's what happened to a Bay Area woman who couldn't get the bank to release her badly-needed cash.

The incident started when a woman inherited her mother's home, but ended with a long and frustrating ordeal at the bank. Before she died, Bette Lou Benzinger gave her daughter Susan Benzinger the house they shared for 20 years in Pacheco. It's surrounded by gardens and filled with memories -- and now the house is in need of a big repair job.

Benzinger came home one day to find the floor lifting off the slab in the dining room. Contractors found a broken pipe underneath her kitchen, and water was seeping everywhere.

"I was shocked," Benzinger said. "I had no idea there was going to be that much damage."

Workers ripped out floors in the kitchen, dining room, living room and even cabinets had to go. Thankfully, State Farm Insurance agreed to pay $25,000 for repairs, and Benzinger figured everything would work out fine -- except it didn't.

"The check was made payable to Susan Benzinger and Bank of America Home Loan Services."

State Farm wrote the check to both Benzinger and her mortgage lender Bank of America. The bank cashed the check with the promise of doling out the money as repairs were done. However, the first check the issued, amounting to $19,000, was made out to Benzinger and her deceased mother.

"I told them, well she's died," Benzinger said. "You've issued this check in my mother's name and not my name, and I'm unable to cash it."

The bank then issued another check made out to Benzinger and her mother's estate, but her mother left no estate, so Benzinger still couldn't cash the check.

"They needed a copy of her death certificate (and) and copy of the property deed," Benzinger said.

Benzinger provided all of the documents and Bank of America still said it could only issue the check to the mother since Bette Benzinger's name was originally on the loan. Sue Benzinger couldn't assume the loan either, and the bank said Benzinger couldn't make the loan payments anymore.

"I actually got nervous that they might try to take the house away from me," Benzinger said.

Finally, Benzinger decided to get rid of the home loan entirely with $17,000 left on the balance. Still, Bank of America said it had to put Bette Benzinger's name on the insurance check.

"I was losing sleep over this," Benzinger said. "I was really getting very nervous that I was never going to see this money."

Eight months went by. The house repairs went undone. Floors were still ripped out, and the $25,000 was still sitting at the bank. Benzinger had nowhere to turn. That's when Benzinger contacted 7 On Your Side.

ABC7 contacted the bank and Bank of America's executive offices agreed to look into her case. Within weeks, the logjam broke.

Bank of America found a way to issue the check in Sue Benzinger's name alone. The bank told ABC7 they "truly apologize for her experience with the bank in trying to get the insurance proceeds."

Benzinger is just relieved to have her money.

"Without 7 On Your Side, I still wouldn't have that check. I am so grateful," Benzinger said.

Bank of America said the situation was complicated by the fact that Sue Benzinger owned the house but not the loan. However, the bank admits it should have tried harder to resolve the matter quickly.

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