Mary presented to the bank the power of attorney (POA) we had prepared and Mom signed in our office 2 years ago. It was a general durable power of attorney, giving Mary the ability to do banking on Mom’s behalf as well as other actions she might need to take in the future, such as accessing retirement accounts, life insurance policies, and real estate.
We tell clients to anticipate problems. Financial institutions prefer that their customers sign a POA on their form in their presence. Why? Because it is easier for them. They don’t have to worry about whether the POA is valid, whether the agent has the right to access the account on the principal’s behalf. The bank told Mary that Mom would need to come into the branch with Mary to acknowledge the POA or sign a new one.
That, however, was not possible because Mom has advanced dementia. She is no longer competent to sign or acknowledge anything. When Mary told the bank manager this , the manager replied, “well then you’ll need to apply for guardianship to access her account. We don’t accept outside powers of attorney”.
What happened to Mary is not uncommon. The bank was categorically rejecting all POAs. Mary was understandably upset. “What’s the point of having a power of attorney if banks won’t honor it”, she asked. I completely understood her frustration. I also know that the bank is wrong and it’s policy is in direct violation of New Jersey’s power of attorney statute.
Next week I’ll tell you how we resolved it.