A custodial account always belongs to its beneficiary.

A custodial account always belongs to its beneficiary. Credit: iStock

I'm 26 years old, working and going to school for my master's degree. When my parents divorced nine years ago, my father left the country, we believe for Brazil. He's the custodian of my $10,500 Uniform Gift to Minors account at J.P. Morgan Chase. The bank won't give me the money without a medallion signature letter from my father, although I've told them he has abandoned me and I can't contact him. Is there anything I can do to get this money? I cannot afford a lawyer.

The account is unquestionably yours. Your father was legally required to transfer it to you as soon as you reached adulthood. Unfortunately, you'll need a court order to get the bank to release it to you without his signature.

If you can locate him, you can sue him for breach of fiduciary trust, says Sharon Kovacs Gruer, a Great Neck estate lawyer. If he's collecting Social Security, the Social Security Administration has his address. They won't divulge it, but they will forward letters to him. You can serve him legal notice via registered mail. If he doesn't respond, you'll win the suit by default and the court will order the release of your money.

Alternatively, you can sue the bank, whose lawyers must then tell a judge why it's withholding your money. That may be the fastest way to get the court order, says Anthony Sabino, a Mineola securities and bankruptcy lawyer.

To find the free legal help you need, call law firms and ask for their pro bono coordinator. All big firms do pro bono work; it's now required by the New York Court of Appeals. Try law schools, too. They run "law clinics" where students tackle real clients' problems.

The bottom line A custodial account always belongs to its beneficiary.

Websites with more information 1.usa.gov/H07ihJ and bit.ly/HaVJ7P