Midwest Voices

Assisting those helping elderly is beneficial

The population of older Americans is growing. So is the need for others to serve as power of attorney authority.
The population of older Americans is growing. So is the need for others to serve as power of attorney authority. The Associated Press

America’s population is aging. Aging baby boomers garner the most attention.

I’m currently helping a parent manage financial affairs. Over a decade ago, I also helped a family friend. Both individuals proactively established a sound legal framework.

Their trust in me and my capabilities led them to grant me power of attorney authority within that legal framework. In both cases, multiple conversations helped me understand their values, priorities and wishes.

While I can’t say the role is an enjoyable one, I take it very seriously. I’ve had to make unpleasant decisions and have undesirable conversations. However, I’ve never been in a situation where I wasn’t clear about the decision to be made.

Example: When I had power of attorney authority over a decade ago, I found financial institutions generally unwilling to work with people in that situation. One required me to bring in copies of the trust and a power of attorney document so management could make (and keep) copies. Then, when I attempted to conduct business, I was informed, “We’re bankers, not lawyers.”

They claimed they couldn’t assess the validity of the documents, making it impossible to conduct financial transactions. After striking out at multiple levels, I took the issue to the chairman of this large consumer-focused financial institution.

My persistence greatly frustrated him. He finally offered to have his personal attorney review my legal documents. My refusal exasperated him. I said I wasn’t seeking special treatment, rather trying to make the case for changing their business practices — to work with individuals who had legitimate power of attorney authority. I handled my friend’s affairs for over a year, and then managed the estate for the next two years. It was incredibly maddening.

Today one might expect considerably greater ease, particularly given a larger older population. Not so.

I’ll certainly concede a marketing background and mentality. I see many ways financial institutions can benefit from helping customers create protective financial scenarios and methods for individuals granted power of attorney to manage customers’ assets. Becoming trusted partners would lead to opportunities for future generations. Why are they so blatantly not interested?

Recently, after making initial inquiries at multiple financial institutions, with no responses worth pursuing, I contacted our family attorney. He explained, “There is the law; then there is bank policy.”

In short, becoming “friendly” to those using power of attorney to conduct financial business would require some policy adjustments. He recommended one financial institution where he’d had decent past experience. I established a power of attorney-based banking relationship with that institution. It had been flexible in multiple ways others were not. Unfortunately, considering two significant errors and a complex, multistep online banking set-up process I’m not yet a fan.

Fortunately, I’m persistent and not easily intimidated. However, those traits shouldn’t be required to effectively utilize power of attorney authority. There are many aging people who need individuals they trust to be able to manage their financial affairs. Well-established legal processes are in place. So far, in large part, the banking/financial services industry has chosen not to cooperate.

What will it take for financial institutions to choose to take the steps to become “friendly” for those managing the finances of others while protecting both customers and the financial institution? Doing it well would increase their bottom lines now and well into the future.

Lisa Hays of Independence operates her own business intelligence firm, A Fresh Perspective LLC. Reach her at oped@kcstar.com.