My father got divorced 6 years ago. In 2020, while he was in the hospital and I was managing his bills, I noticed that he was still using the joint account he had with his ex-wife. I advised him to have her removed from the account or open a new one. The bank informed us that we needed the ex-wife's signature to remove her from the account, but we didn't know how to contact her, and even if we did, she likely wouldn't have cooperated. My father thought it was too much trouble to open a new account, transfer his pension and Social Security deposits, and update his automatic payments. He believed that since his ex-wife didn't receive his pension in the divorce, she had no right to it.
I continued to bring up the issue, but eventually, my father claimed that he had resolved it, so I stopped asking. Unfortunately, he passed away unexpectedly last month, and I have a court date in a couple of weeks to be appointed as the personal representative of his estate. Therefore, I don't have access to his accounts yet. I have notified the relevant parties to stop payments, but it appears that the ex-wife withdrew a substantial amount of money from the account, including pension and Social Security payments that were made after my father's death. She even reported the payments my father made that month as fraudulent to recall the money.
I understand the concept of joint ownership of a bank account with right of survivorship, but I'm wondering if there are any provisions in the divorce decree that could provide legal recourse to recover the money. Additionally, I'm unsure whether the ex-wife or the estate is responsible for returning the pension and Social Security payments that she took from the bank.
This entire process has been emotionally challenging, and I would greatly appreciate any positive news or guidance on how to handle this situation.