Vanguard and Beneficiaries

Vanguard has proven to be the most difficult company to deal after my father’s death. I first started this process a few weeks ago but after getting transferred and/or cut off multiple times, they couldn’t do anything for me because I couldn’t remember a security on my dormant Vanguard account (I had closed it a few years ago due to poor customer service).

So they had to send me a form, I had to get it notarized, and then they would remove the enhanced security off my account (which has nothing in it).

I tried calling today and after getting a call back (long hold times), the guy couldn’t do anything for me and had to transfer me to another group with another long hold time. I’m waiting on another call back. It seems like no one person there can really do much and every time you get transfer you start the process over again.

Rather maddening. Dealing with the life insurance company was trivial by comparison. There I reported the death, uploaded a death certificate, filled out some forms, and had the money in my account within 10 days. I have no urgent need for the money but just want to get done with this estate stuff.

Anyone have any proven ways of getting this done?

I struggled with Vanguard after my father’s death last year. All 4 of us (his children) had to call in individually, and, while on the phone with a representative, go through an on-line process to create accounts and prove our identities and provide information on the other siblings. My brothers did not know that my sister had started to use her married name. They provided her maiden name, which is the name my father had on the account. I called Vanguard every two weeks to get a status and ask what was holding things up. Eventually I learned that my brothers would have to go through the long on-line process a second time to correct my sister’s name. One brother handles bureaucracy well and the other does not. (My head hurts from banging it against the wall…)

I don’t know any tricks to get regular customer service issues resolved with Vanguard. When I asked if there was a direct line to the group that handles inheritances, I was told to call 877-662-7447 and the name of the group is the “Advanced Change of Ownership Team”. When calling in, use my father’s social security number and use the intent “Resolution”. The best times to call are 8-10 AM Eastern Time and request a digital callback. Digital callback is not offered after 4 PM Eastern Time. This information was current as of March 2021.

I made multiple calls that lasted multiple hours. I found something interruptible that I could work on while sitting in queues and waiting for call backs. Once the four accounts were established and funded, we haven’t had an issue with Vanguard since.

I am sorry for your loss. This is not an easy time. My father died over a year ago and I am still resolving issues with his final social security payment and his 2019 federal tax return. Each time I speak with an agency or institution, I ask how long I should wait before calling back if things aren’t resolved. I mark it on the calendar and call them back, if necessary.

I hope the number for the Advanced Change of Ownership Team helps.

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Holey moley. People die all the time, you’d think this would be streamlined.

Thanks for the heads up. If I have to depend on my siblings’ cooperation in order to settle my dad’s estate, I will be so SOL.
One wrinkle is that all Dad’s accounts are in his Trust, and I’m the only Trustee. I hope that’ll help, but it might just make things more complicated. We’ll see.

Good luck.

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Gee, this proves that Vanguard has good lawyers. Take no risks. Check and double check everything. Perfection required.

What else are lawyers good for? They have to keep busy to earn their keep.

So sorry to hear of VG adding more pain to an already difficult situation.

My late spouse and I had VG accounts and VG did everything within 20 minutes - over the phone. Of course we were joint owners of brokerage and I was the beneficiary of the IRAs. But VG was able to look up the death certificate on their own (on-line) and I never had to send anything in. Times(and customer service) may have changed.

There were other accounts that definitely weren’t as relatively easy or quick.

Best of luck,

I bet you might find difficulties with many places.
As far as your VG experience with worthless securities…

One that still sends statements is ETrade to my late husband, for a Roth which has positions in worthless securities.
I’ve contacted them, in writing and by phone. I’ve mailed the required documents and then as a last ditch effort, I did as they said, returning it unopened listing ‘not at this address’ on the envelope.

I still get the statements for a worthless Roth that isn’t mine.

I gave up - but obviously, you can’t.

I’m sure as a fiducary they have to follow very specific rules? I would hope so.


I feel this is same, laggard process with other institutions as well. In 2020, dealt with JPMorgan and had similar situation where it took a bit longer to process IRAs to beneficiaries. I believe delays in processing disbursement of retirement accounts are due to:

  1. Even though there is a special department, the employees are basically employed to be the gatekeepers and have no real knowledge on the rules of disbursement. Info gets processed and then goes into a queue to be approved by an employee with legal authority (lawyer for company?).

  2. Companies gotta cover their butts and with above, don’t allow the front-line employees the authority to provide any advice or actual authority. Takes longer to process distributions to ensure no other heirs come back with a legal claim on any monies.

With regards to Beneficiary IRAs, I also found it annoying that it is a standard for the Custodian of the IRA to require the beneficiary to open up the beneficiary IRA with same company, even if you have no intentions of keeping the funds with that institution. In my case, all my siblings had to open up Beneficiary IRAs with JPM even though we were all planning on transferring the IRAs to other investment firms. Even though I had a beneficiary IRA setup with Schwab anticipating the funds, I still had to go through the hassle of opening an account with JPM.

Lastly, I would advise on keeping notes of dates, times, and names of reps you speak with. If you don’t have any traction after the 3rd or so follow up, I would escalate and ask to file a formal complaint. That will get them moving as last thing investment company wants is a complaint with FINRA.