A widow was living with dementia before she died. But it’s an act from Westpac staff that has really upset her family

The family of a widow living with dementia claim she was allowed to withdraw more than $300,000 from a Westpac branch over 24 months before she died. 

The 89-year-old woman had been a client of a Westpac branch on the North Island of New Zealand right up until her death on July 30, 2020. 

The elderly woman made more than 70 teller-assisted cash withdrawals between September 2017 and July 2020, totalling a staggering $305,000. 

Her daughter claimed the bank had allowed the transactions despite making them aware of her dementia and that she was a vulnerable customer.

An 89-year-old widow who suffered from dementia withdrew more than $300,000 in cash from her Westpac account in the 34 months before her death (stock image)

Concerned about her mother’s health, the daughter contacted the Westpac branch in February 2020. 

The bank added a note to her file which stated she was a ‘vulnerable customer’ and warned teller’s to ‘take care with any large or unusual transactions’. 

Despite the warning, the elderly woman was able to withdraw $50,000 in five separate teller-assisted transactions in the months before her death. 

The daughter explained she was ‘gobsmacked’ staff did not question any of the withdrawals.  

She added her mum had paid off her home and her car and was not using the money for utility bills or credit card payments.  

‘What the hell did they think she was spending the money on?’ the daughter told NZ Herald.

The daughter said she knew ‘something was off’ about her mum in the months leading up to her death as she was angry and would comment on ‘people fleecing her for money’.  

Relatives tried to track down the total amount of cash the widow withdrew and believe more than $200,000 had just ‘disappeared’. 

‘I can’t prove it, but the money is missing. And the $23,000 she withdrew three weeks before she died, that was gone from her house,’ the daughter said. 

The daughter, who was appointed as power of attorney for her mum, checked her mother’s bank statements for any suspicious transactions. 

The woman's family lodged a formal complaint with Westpac and the Banking Ombudsman, claiming the bank failed its duty of care to protect a vulnerable and elderly client (stock image)

The woman’s family lodged a formal complaint with Westpac and the Banking Ombudsman, claiming the bank failed its duty of care to protect a vulnerable and elderly client (stock image)

She was shocked to discover her mother had withdrawn more than $200,000 in cash in the last 18 months of her life. 

The statements showed the biggest in-branch cash withdrawal was for $24,000 in May 2019.

The daughter said she accompanied her mum on her final trip to the bank and watched the teller hand over an envelope containing $23,000 despite her mum not carrying a handbag. 

She explained she had no idea at the time the amount her mum had withdrawn, but remembered the teller stating it was a large amount of money. 

‘They let her walk out without a handbag with a Westpac envelope stuffed with cash. It was probably like 8cm thick,’ the daughter said. 

The daughter confronted bank staff about the series of large cash withdrawals and claimed she was told they were ‘too scared’ to ask the pensioner why she needed the money. 

They allegedly claimed the mum ‘maybe wanted to purchase a mobility scooter’ with the cash. 

The family contacted police suggesting the pensioner was a victim of elder abuse as she lived frugally and there was no indication she spent the money on herself. 

An investigation was launched and a person of interest was questioned but it was eventually closed as there was no evidence the individual received the money, with police unable to trace the cash. 

The family has since lodged a formal complaint with the Australian-owned bank, claiming it failed its duty of care to protect a vulnerable and elderly client. 

The complaint claims Westpac tellers failed to question the cash withdrawals despite a vulnerable customer alert being added to her file. 

The family has also made a complaint to the Banking Ombudsman. 

In a letter sent to the daughter in May, Westpac described the widowed pensioner as a woman who was ‘very well respected’ at the branch.

A rundown of some of the transactions made by the widow before her death on July 30, 2020

A rundown of some of the transactions made by the widow before her death on July 30, 2020

The bank said its staff did not believe the woman had ‘vulnerabilities’ and did not suspect any of the withdrawals as suspicious.

The letter explained it was common for the mum to withdraw money as it was the way she used her bank account and operated her finances.   

The bank added staff were of the same opinion as the daughter who indicated her mum was not someone to be questioned about her funds.   

Westpac said staff questioned the woman on ‘several occasions’ over the reason for the cash withdrawals and that the woman was ‘confident and savvy with money’.

‘She was very private about her finances, which was acknowledged by her daughter … and our staff ultimately acted on her instructions in processing the withdrawals,’ Westpac said in a statement to NZ Herald. 

The bank added tellers asked additional questions about cash withdrawals after February 2020, following the ‘extra care’ code which was placed on the woman’s account at the daughter’s request. 

The elderly woman made three withdrawals were made in March totalling $25,000 and told staff she needed the cash due to Covid-19 lockdowns. 

Staff also queried her final $23,000 withdrawal and were told she needed the lump sum because she did not know when her next visit to the branch would be. 

Staff claimed they were ‘comfortable’ in handing the cash over in an envelope as the woman was with her daughter. 

In 2023, Australians aged 65 years and over reported more than 72,000 scams, which cost victims almost $121 million, according to the ACCC’s Scamwatch. 

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