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The Difficulty Of Making Changes To Accounts At Banks And Other Financial Institutions

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Dealing with Finances in Elder Law Can be Frustrating

I bring this topic to your attention for a multitude of reasons. First and foremost, banks and other financial institutions like brokerage houses have specific forms, processes and policies in place that make it difficult even for an experienced attorney like me to deal with let alone a person who has no experience dealing with these institutions.

In fact, I spent three full days on behalf of a client at 3 different banks attempting to accomplish what would normally appear to be very simple tasks. The first task was merely adding a Power of Attorney to an existing account, second was to change the name of an account to a trust and thirdly to add a named beneficiary to the accounts.

Why So Difficult?

You may wonder what was so difficult and why. I’m sure the difficulties are in place to protect the institution against becoming the victims of fraud. So what they do is initiate their own policies regardless of what the actual state and/or federal laws are. For example, in Georgia a new law regarding Power of Attorney was put in place in July 2018 which specifically states that financial institutions must accept the Power of Attorney unless there is evidence of fraud or financial abuse. But – and here’s where it gets tricky – while they must accept it, the bank also must send every POA to their “legal” department. Typically every banks’ legal department is out of state and they are run by lawyers who are not specialists on each state’s Power of Attorney or trust laws…and, to make it more difficult no one can speak directly to these attorneys.

Now, you’re getting the picture! Then there is a third step that makes it very complicated when money in an estate is in a bank or brokerage house. The financial institutions require their own forms in addition to what they call an “outside” Power of Attorney. Or they require a Doctor’s statement saying the person for whom the POA is acting is not competent. In the specific case I was working on my client wasn’t incompetent but was at the time in ICU, so was not accessible.

Besides the challenges put on clients by the financial institutions there are other things that can really make it difficult to make changes. If a client has mobility issues and can’t get to the bank, they have to rely on someone to help them. Also, laws change, and people think that just because they did their documents once, no matter how many years ago, that they are going to be good to go forever. This simply isn’t the case. There are simply too many things that make it difficult.

There Is A Better Way

If a person has their assets titled in the name of a Revocable Living Trust they will not have these problems. However, the trust has to be drafted correctly to avoid one of the problems I had at the banks on behalf of my client. For instance, if administering the trust after death, there has to be special language directly about this otherwise the bank will mess it up.

It’s important to retain the services of an actual Estate Planning or Certified Elder Law Attorney instead of a general practitioner. One of my clients whose account I was attempting to change had an Adoption/Family Law Attorney draw up the paperwork. Just because you know a lawyer doesn’t mean that attorney can do everything.

I suggest that people stop focusing on the cost of doing things that are so important and instead focus on the value, expertise and competency that is required to do the job correctly the first time. You’ll avoid paying an attorney an hourly fee to fix something that didn’t have to be so complicated.


Looking to find an experienced estate lawyer in the Georgia area who is skilled in asset protection and estate plan preparation? Shannon Pawley is an attorney in Georgia with expertise in estate planning and asset protection. Shannon can provide assistance with creating an estate plan to include making a will and how to establish a trust properly. If you have questions about asset protection or questions about making an estate plan, reach out to Shannon and she will be glad to help answer all the estate planning questions you might have!

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