Why do I need an independent escrow manager or an escrow account?
Third-party assisted reproductive arrangements like surrogacy and egg donation are legally complicated and emotionally charged relationships. We are always extremely disturbed when we hear stories of people who entered into a surrogacy arrangement without an escrow manager and had issues over payments spoil their relationship with their surrogate or otherwise diminish what should be a joyful experience. We also are very troubled when we hear that people have been taken advantage of by people who have mismanaged their funds. Many reputable agencies require that an independent escrow agent be used, and some states (New York for example) require that a third-party or independent escrow manager be used to manage and distribute funds in a surrogacy arrangement. Having an independent fund manager – or at least one that discloses any ownership interest between it and the agency you are using – will help ensure that people do not try and take advantage of you and will ensure that your surrogate or egg donor will receive the money to which she is legally entitled to receive.
In contrast to many other escrow companies servicing the third-party reproductive industry, Stork Escrow was created to offer even greater security than just being an “independent” fund manager. Stork Escrow is co-owned by both an experienced reproductive lawyer and a Certified Public Accountant. By virtue of being a licensed attorney, co-founder Elizabeth Swire Falker, Esq., enables Stork Escrow to hold escrow funds in a special account that is held to extremely high fiduciary and ethical standards, what is known as an IOLTA (Interest on Lawyer’s Trust Account). The funds held in the IOLTA are disbursed and managed by Kelly DuMont, an accountant, whose management also is held to extremely high fiduciary standards by virtue of her license as a CPA. Both owners of Stork Escrow are subject to disciplinary action if not harsher penalties if the funds being held and managed by Stork Escrow are not managed properly.
For more information, read Liz’s blog post, Working 9-5 with an Escrow Agent.
What is an IOLTA and does the money earn interest while in this type of account?
An IOLTA (Interest on Lawyer’s Trust Account) is a special type of account that is only available to attorneys. The management of funds in an IOLTA is held to extremely high fiduciary standards – attorneys holding funds in an IOLTA can potentially lose their license to practice law if the funds in the account are mismanaged.
IOLTA’s do earn interest. However, the interest is paid to New York State (the State in which our IOLTA’s are held). The interest typically funds non-profit criminal justice programs. If you would like more information on where the interest is paid and for what purpose please visit: http://www.nylawfund.org/escrow.shtml
Is Stork Escrow licensed, bonded and/or insured?
Yes, Stork Escrow is bonded and insured. We are happy to provide information regarding our insurance coverage or our surety bond upon request.
Stork Escrow is not “licensed” as escrow companies in New York are not subject to licensure. Instead, the assurance provided by a license is secured through attorney and co-owner Elizabeth Swire Falker’s license to practice law in the State of New York where the accounts are held. Attorney Swire Falker’s conduct as an escrow agent is regulated by the laws pertaining to IOLTA’s and thus her status as a New York licensed attorney serves as a form of licensing — indeed perhaps the only kind of license applicable in New York would be that provided through her license to practice law.
For more information on escrow accounts and escrow companies in New York, and things consumers should look for when hiring an escrow agent in New York please visit: http://www.nylawfund.org/escrow.shtml
How long does it take to set up the escrow account?
Typically, it only takes a few days to set-up an escrow account, but it can be set-up more quickly if the situation is urgent. Unless your agency makes the referral directly to us, you can begin the process of opening a new account with Stork Escrow on our website. After receiving the referral from your agency, or the completed online form, we will begin the process of opening the account and send you an introductory package via DocuSign which contains an overview letter describing the escrow management process and our management agreement so that you may execute it electronically. Instructions for making your initial deposit into escrow and the amount needed for deposit may also be provided in your introductory DocuSign package.
How can I deposit funds?
You can wire or send the funds via ACH transfer, send them via a service like TransferWise or Zelle/QuickPay, or send them by check. We typically request that funds be wired as out-of-state checks and those over a specific amount of money will be held by the bank for approximately ten days. In this case, we have no access to the funds to make payments. With electronic transfers, we do not encounter that problem and the funds are available to us for disbursement within 24-48 hours. Wire transfers also better facilitate the establishment of accounts with international clients. As discussed below, we also accept deposits via credit card.
Can we make deposits by credit card?
Yes. Stork Escrow accepts payment by credit card. However, payments made by credit card have transaction fees applied to them by the merchant bank or credit card company through which the payment is being processed. These fees are determined based on the amount of the deposit and are deducted from the deposit as it is made into our account. Accordingly, we ask that all escrow clients who want to utilize a credit card for purposes of funding escrow pay a nominal transaction fee to better ensure that their account is not underfunded as a result of processing fees applied during the credit card transaction. If the transaction fee ultimately is less than the fee we requested prior to processing the transaction, we will refund the difference to your escrow account. If you have any questions about payment by credit card, please contact us for further information.
How do I see the current balance in my escrow account?
Account statements are emailed to you on the 10th day of every calendar month in which the account is open. Updated statements are available anytime and may be requested using a mobile-friendly form on our website. Once the Stork Escrow Team receives the form requesting an updated accounting, one will be emailed typically within one (1) business day.
How will you let me know when I need to transfer more money into the account?
As discussed in more detail in our management agreement and your gestational surrogacy agreement, escrow accounts typically have minimum balance requirements. If and when the balance in your escrow account drops to within $5,000.00 of the minimum balance requirement (e.g., the balance in the Trust Account is $7,500.00 and you have a $5,000.00 minimum balance requirement), Stork Escrow will email you and your agency (if you are working with an agency), to advise you that a supplemental deposit is required to ensure payments can continue to be made out of the escrow account. Stork Escrow will let you know the amount of known, remaining scheduled or calendared compensation payments and provide a copy of your account statement so that you and/or your agency may determine the amount of funds needed to replenish the escrow account at that time.
How are you notified that a payment needs to be made?
Stork Escrow has online forms available on its website by which your surrogate, egg donor, or agency will submit requests for reimbursement or to notify us that a payment needs to be issued. Our website and online forms are mobile-friendly and can be completed and submitted from a smartphone, tablet, or computer.
How do you know if something should be reimbursed/covered through the escrow?
Our reproductive lawyers, co-owner Elizabeth Swire Falker, Esq., and/or our Escrow Account Manager, Jamie L. Bunyan Broadwood, Esq., will read through your gestational surrogacy agreement or egg donation agreement to verify the terms and conditions pertaining to payments. If a payment request requires additional information before it can be processed, the Stork Escrow Team will request the necessary documentation before submitting the payment to the agency and/or to you to confirm that payment may be issued. All scheduled payments, like monthly pregnancy compensation and monthly allowances, are established based on the terms and conditions of your gestational surrogacy agreement and are logged into a calendaring system and payments will be sent to the gestational surrogate automatically.
Does my surrogate have to send you receipts for reimbursement (doctor’s visits, copays, etc.)?
Yes, the online form requests receipts evidencing the expense and/or links to MapQuest or Google Maps to verify mileage. Please note that not all expenses require receipts. Required documentation will be verified based on the terms and conditions of the applicable contract and if not included with the expense reimbursement or lost wage form, will be requested from the surrogate (or egg donor).
What if I have a question about what a payment was for or why it was made?
Pursuant to the terms of our management agreement, you may ask Stork Escrow to copy you on any emails between the Stork Escrow Team and your agency pertaining to expense requests being processed so that you are fully aware of everything that is being submitted and approved for payment. If you are working independently, Stork Escrow automatically will notify you of payment requests that are being processed. If you have any questions about the payment being processed or a payment listed on an account statement please email us so that we can address any concerns or questions you may have regarding that payment.
How long is the escrow account open?
In a surrogacy arrangement, typically the account remains open until approximately 6-12 months after a baby is born. Your surrogacy agency and/or your gestational surrogacy agreement may have specific terms regarding the length of time the account must remain open after a delivery. If you are terminating your surrogacy arrangement the account typically will be closed within 3-6 months following termination. Egg donation cycles are much faster, and we close-out these types of escrow accounts as soon as we are advised to do so by the agency; usually about 1-3 months after the conduct of an egg retrieval procedure. The time period depends on what type of expenses are being paid out of the account, the time it takes insurance to process medical bills, and the policies and procedures of your surrogacy or egg donation agency (if you have one).
What happens when the account is to be closed?
Upon confirmation from either you or the agency that all bills and expenses have been paid, Stork Escrow will begin the process of reconciling your account and preparing a final accounting. At this time, any monies remaining on deposit will be refunded to you either via electronic transfer or check.
Do you speak Spanish?
Yes, our Escrow Account Administrator, Ileana Torres, is fluent in Spanish.