If you want to look after the financial affairs of someone who can no longer manage, you’ll need the legal authority to do this. It’s called an ongoing or permanent ‘power of attorney’. Once you have it, you have the legal right to run someone’s bank account, sell their home to pay care fees and so on. The problem is that banks and building societies don’t always deal with people who have a power of attorney correctly. How can you avoid this problem?
Q. What’s the problem?
A. There are several different problems that people have when they try and sort out a power of attorney, such as:
- Banks can take a long time to register that someone has a power of attorney and to add their details onto the bank account.
- Banks can sometimes lose the power of attorney documents that you have sent them. This can delay the process of adding your details to an account by several weeks.
- Banks may ask you to send them the original power of attorney certificate, to show you have legal authority to be someone’s attorney. If they lose this, the delays can be much more than a few weeks.
- Banks may decide they don’t want to give you a cash machine card for a power of attorney account or that you can’t operate a savings account online.
- Banks sometimes send documents meant for the person who has the power of attorney, but it gets sent to the account holder’s address. If that person has dementia, they may throw the letter away or put it somewhere ‘safe’ that they later can’t remember.
- Banks may ask their customer – namely person who the power of attorney is being registered for (called the ‘donor’ or ‘granter’ in legal terms) to sign documents or come to a bank branch. They shouldn’t do this as the customer may not be able to get to a branch and, if they have lost mental capacity, signing a document will be meaningless anyway.
I’ve arranged power of attorney for two relatives and I’ve experienced just about all of these problems, and so have a number of SavvyWoman users.
Q. What should banks and building societies do?
A. Banks should never ask you to send originals of your lasting, continuing or enduring power of attorney (the three names for ongoing powers of attorney). If they lose the original document, you may have to apply for the certificate all over again, which can take weeks.
Instead, they should ask for a certified copy. You can ask for these copies at the time or you can get a solicitor or bank to certify the copy for you (to show it’s a genuine copy). Solicitors will charge for this.
Banks should also send important correspondence (such as cheque books and cheque guarantee cards) to the address of the attorney, not the person whose affairs they are managing. The bank’s customer will normally still receive their own copies of statements etc, but bank cards, which may be used fraudulently if they get lost or thrown away, should be sent to the attorney.
SAVVY TIP: Don’t leave an original power of attorney certificate with the bank or send it in the post (even registered). Some bank staff don’t know the rules and will insist you do this, but they have no right to. A certified copy of a power of attorney document carried the same legal authority as the original. That’s the whole point of getting the copy certified and not just using a photocopier!
Q. What can I do if I have a problem with an ongoing power of attorney?
A. First of all, complain to the bank or building society. It might be worth reading the Financial Ombudsman Service’s power of attorney tips for banks, which it’s recently produced, so you know what the bank or building society should do (even if their own staff don’t!). The Financial Ombudsman Service has also produced some useful power of attorney tips for customers to help you.
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