Power of Attorney: who has the power?

A Power of Attorney (POA) is a legal document that gives someone the right to act on your behalf. This post is intended to be a cautionary tale so that you don’t have your own horror story.

Can a bank refuse a Power of Attorney?

Yes, they can! If you are you going to manage your parents’ finances in the future, don’t be seduced by a false sense of power the ironically named Power of Attorney gives you. It doesn’t matter if your POA was drawn up by the best lawyer in town—the banks don’t may not trust you and you need to plan for that.

They aren’t just throwing their power around because they can. Banks have a responsibility to protect people’s finances. Most of us have heard or read stories about fraud, theft of seniors’ savings, and financial abuse (with the equally disturbing fact that family members are usually the culprit).

It is an especially tough job for banks these days. With online banking and banking machines, you and your parents may be unknown to them outside of an online account or two.

Because of this unfamiliarity, sometimes the pendulum swings too far and the bank refuses to recognize legitimate Powers of Attorney.

Why banks reject a Power of Attorney

Banks can refuse to accept a Power of Attorney because:

  • It is old
  • It lacks clarity
  • It doesn’t conform to the bank’s internal policies

If you think that the above reasons are rather vague, I couldn’t agree more. I have had clients’ POA refused because:

  • They had never met the son who had the POA
  • The POA was over 10 years old
  • The person with the account didn’t arrange to sign the bank’s own internal papers
  • The parent was not physically able to go to the bank to verify they gave their daughter a POA
  • A sibling called the bank and said this was a case of financial abuse

All of the POAs presented to the bank were legitimate.

While you don’t always need a lawyer to draw up a POA (there are free kits available you can complete without a lawyer), I have always advised the use of a lawyer. In my experience, banks are even more suspicious with do-it-yourself POAs, even though they are still a legal document. It is also advisable to have a lawyer complete your POA if there is even a hint of conflict between siblings (and this is no time to be naïve or sentimental).

This isn’t fear-mongering or a tirade against the banks (that would be too easy, wouldn’t it?). I have simply had too many experiences with sons and daughters who have had a legitimate POA denied by the bank. You can imagine the stress involved under this situation. The banks can freeze accounts, in order to investigate “suspicious activity”.  This can even make it difficult to pay bills (yes you read that right, difficult to put money into the account and pay bills).

If suspicious, the banks can ask for a capacity assessment to be completed or a letter from the family doctor confirming that your parent is capable. While inconvenient and sometimes costly, this is not always possible, as sons and daughters are involved only when their parent becomes incapable of managing their finances themselves.

What to do when a bank refuses your POA

Banks are now obligated to provide recourse to clients (your parents) or attorneys when they refuse to act on a POA or attorney’s (you as son or daughter) instructions. The Advocacy Centre for the Elderly (ACE) recommends the following steps in the face of a refusal to do so.

  1. Client or attorney should first contact the bank’s Office of the Ombudsman (all 5 major banks in Canada have one).
  2. If unresolved, escalate to the Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments (OBSI).
  3. Consult a lawyer.

It can be quite challenging, not to mention time consuming and exasperating to try resolve the issue of POAs not being recognized by the banks.

It doesn’t have to play out this way. You and your parents can be proactive and prevent this problem! (well, no guarantees because this whole subject brings my ‘risk-averse’ mind to the fore.)

Take these steps to get your POA recognized by the bank

  • Do it early, when there is no question of capacity.
  • Go to the branch with your parents. Have your parents introduce you to the Bank Manager.
  • Take the POA to the bank and have it reviewed and accepted. If there are problems with it from the bank’s perspective, these can be addressed while there is no question of capacity.
  • Your parents should ask the bank if they also have their own internal documentation required, which will give someone the power to manage their finances.

Are you surprised by any of this information? Do your parents have a POA in place? Have you experienced any issues at the bank?

86 thoughts on “Power of Attorney: who has the power?

  1. Western union tells me they don’t recognize any power of attorney (not only mine specifically and with no apparent reason). I tried talking to someone for answers and I got hours of runaround.

  2. I have a Power of Attorney for my brother. Wells Fargo legal team denied the POA stating it was not signed trustee of the trust. The attorney said that they should have accepted it, but now offers no help except executing more documents for hundreds of dollars more. I have already paid $800 for the POA and a consultation, I cannot afford more!

    • I really do understand the frustration. There are definitely problems with the current systems as it pertains to Powers of Attorney

  3. What is the point of a legal POA if third parties have a right to refuse to recognize it for any matter that they decide. The appointed attorney is the only person that has the legally given right to make decisions for the adult. An enduring power of attorney is even worse, considering they claim the adult who made the POA cannot provide any information and they do not have to listen to them because they can claim judgement issues.

    A normal POA can be revoked or changed by the adult, it is the Enduring Power of Attorney that is the real challenge as they refuse to recognize the adult as a person.

  4. I have power of attorney over my son and I haven’t any trouble until yesterday. I have the papers plus his I.D. I have a Wal-Mart Money Card for over 5years and couldn’t get his stimulus check cash . He’s in rehab.

  5. Yes I have. My mother had a stroke and had a state of Colorado general power of attorney. The bank is now saying that they will not except hers, 15 days after thinking they lost it. They only accept their own however they never offered her the option nor advised her it was required in order for her attorney-in-fact to have access in the case of an emergency.

    • Yes Sherilyn

      Unfortunately that is a familiar story. I am not sure if there is a Bank Ombudsman you can contact?

  6. Do I need a power of Attorney if I have my beneficiaries on all my accounts in my bank?

    I do not have an estate (house) all I have is savings, checking, xmas clubs and a 401k with beneficiaries.

    Thank You
    Peter Pascarelli

    • Hi Peter,

      I think you may be confusing Power of Attorney with a will. A Power of Attorney covers you while you are alive, and a will is about after you pass away.
      I hope this helps.

  7. I have poa for my mother. I closed one of her savings accounts and want to close the 2nd. I am doing this because my brother is a felon and getting out of prison. He knows where my mother banks, he knows her account# and ss#. I just want to move it to another bank. The 2nd bank refused to open a new account wo my mother present. My poa specifically states I can close or open an account in her name. It even says I can bring suit against them if they dont honor it.

    • One thing you could do is ask to to speak to the Manager and/or bank ombudsman. Another thing would be to open a new account at the same bank, and your brother shouldn’t be able to gain access. Good luck!

  8. What is the purpose of paying for POA if these banks won’t recognize it? Chase, bank of the west, wells fargo all say no, mine is not old, its very clear, etc, etc I’ve call backs from supervisors and still its no, I couldn’t cash or deposit a check in my name and his with my POA.

  9. My brother is incarcerated and I just sent him some legal documents and he is going to meet me the right of attorney over him over everything that we can have it printed up in the paperwork I wanted to know can I apply for a identification card in California and can I open a bank account for him

    • Hi Daveed,

      I am sorry I am unfamiliar with the American system of banking and powers of attorney.

  10. A credit union has refused to accept the power of attorney granted to me by my parent. Do you have any specific advice for dealing with cedit unions?

    • Hi Michael,

      I don’t have any specific advice–the process should be the same in terms of a power of attorney. Good luck!

  11. Do I need to take all documents to the bank.. pertaining to my mother’s will; POA etc?

    • POA now and will later (after your mother passes). As indicated in the article, it is best to visit the bank with your mother, as the bank may not recognize you as the POA.

      All the best!

  12. My wife has given me POA , which was drawn up by a lawyer. We have both gone into the bankp , the bank managers at a few branches know us well, we both have accounts there, but they still only let me do very limited transactions. For one, we cannot do ANYTHING with a check made out to both of us by virtue of an ‘and’ , not cash, not deposit, nothing, because we do not have a joint account!

    • Yes, I am not surprised to hear that. This is the precise reason why many couples create a joint account, although that isn’t for everybody.

      Take good care, Jane

  13. I hold a general power of Attorney executed/registered by my son who is working abroad.Using this POA can I by a property in India on his name using his own(son’s) funds as he is unable to come to India

    • I am sorry I do not have an answer to your question. You are best to consult a real estate agent and/or lawyer for an answer.

      Take good care.

  14. I now live in Louisiana with my daughter as care giver and POA. I wish to have her handle my Credit Union account I have had for over 70 years. The problem is my Credit Union is in Florida and they advise to make-up a joint account. What would be your advice? Would there be tax questions concerning my daughter? Thank you for listening.

    • Hi Joseph,

      I think the best thing to do is ask official taxation department. Is it the IRA in United States? Or you may want to ask them at the bank/Credit Union. I am sorry but I am unfamiliar with the regulations and taxation system in the United States.

  15. What to do if your sibling is incarcerated and hand wrote his power of attorney letter attached with his inmate identification card. The power of attorney letter was notarized, but I do not see a seal on the letter. Is this legal?

    • I am sorry but I do not have an answer to this question. Perhaps you can get a free consult from a local lawyer to get an answer to this question.

  16. Hi.
    My father is 92 years old and is a Canadian citizen and has a Chequing Account with one of the major banks here in Canada. He went to the Philippines a few months ago but because of the pandemic, he was not able to travel back to Canada. Right now, he is not physically able to travel back.
    He created a POA in the Philippines and named me as his attorney so I can access his account . Unfortunately when I presented this to the bank, it was not recognized because it had a expiration date. The bank told me that the POA should not have an expiration date. At that time that I presented it to the bank, it was not expired yet.
    My father is still in the Philippines and needs money for his medical expenses. But because he doesn’t have a new POA, I cannot access his account so I can send money to him.

    Please advise what is the best thing to do so I can access his account and send him money. If he executes another POA in the Philippines without an expiration date, will this be good enough for the bank to recognize it ? What kind of POA should he execute ? What should be on the contents of the POA ? Do you have a template which I can use to make sure that the bank will not refuse the POA ?

    Thank you for your help. I am looking forward to your immediate advise.

    • Hi Asuncion,
      This is a complicated issue. My suggestion is to have your father call the bank manager in Canada if he is well enough and get direction from them. If he isn’t well enough, I would suggest you make an appointment to talk to the bank manager, and outline the situation and ask what can be done. There is no template available that can be used that ensures the POA will be recognized by the bank.

      Good luck!!

  17. I am going through this as I am typing this! UGH, it’s frustrating to no end! I need to open a joint account for me and my husband for tax purposes and to be able to deposit joint written checks but I have been getting the run around from my current bank. They have asked for his ID (he is unavailable), they said they could just add him to my account, the said they couldn’t, then said they needed the POA to specifically state I could open a joint account. Because my husband is away, it took me a month to get a new POA signed and notarized. Now one of our stimulus checks is about to expire!! UGH°

    • Hi Kimberly,

      That definitely is an UGH story. Sorry to hear that setting up a joint account has been such a hard thing to get done.

  18. I have poa for my mother i did not do it threw a lawyer i applied myself with my mother.my mother has capability mentally but has severe mobility problems so i wento bank without my mother with all documents.lloyds have sent me cash cards with rep on it not poa.if later on my mom looses mental capability can i still pay her bills and take cash out for her.

    • Hi Trudy,

      It is best to check in directly with the bank about this. Thanks for inquiry.

  19. My brother has a durable power of attorney on me which I signed in December 2000. I am not incapacitated, I am in control of all my mental Faculties, I’m of sound mind. The reason I signed the durable power of attorney was to protect me from my husband using it because I am getting a divorce. Now I find that my brother is using durable power of attorney without my knowledge. What can I do?

  20. My sister who lives in another part of Florida made me via her bank Durable Power of Atty. I have Bank of America. She is with another bank. She gave me the legal documents and I had it notarized here where I live and per her Banker’s request sent it back to my sister’s bank. My question is, when and if I need to cash one of her checks will Bank of America cash her check for me?

    • Hi Joyce,

      I am sorry but I do not know how the Bank of America system works, as we focus on Canada on our website. Take good care, Jane

  21. Bank says I am a joint owner on my deceased parents account. I am on their account, but Pa Dept of Human Services’ letter for Estate Recovery states if you are or were Power of Attorney you ARE NOT CONSIDERED a joint owner on checking account. Can you clarify do I pay inheritance tax?

    • I am sorry but you will have to consult a tax accountant or lawyer to get an answer to this question.

  22. Hi, I sent you an e-mail about my problem with RBC bank rejecting my POA. I saw that you had contact numbers/e-mails for RBC, and I think you e-mailed it to me. For some reason I cannot find that e-mail. I think it also had instructions on what steps to take, ie how to do it.
    Could you please send me that info. Without the POA, I am not able to pay the bills!!!

  23. My father is not well quickly ,he is 100 though and he is refusing to eat only drink waTer. But he want a legal document POA Now.I need something bullet proof

    • It is best to do this through a lawyer. Many offices will send someone to the home if the client is unable to come into the office. Take good care, Jane

  24. The concerns you write about is without a doubt true. I am so involved in creating
    a “Living Trust” and attempting to create an estate plan that I forget the basics, like
    meeting the Bank manager and inquiring about their internal documents. But the
    biggest wrench in my plan is the one you mentioned , the freezing of my accounts.
    So it seems I may need an attorney after all. This “living Trust” has been a DIY project.
    However just when I think I have it wrapped up, I run into another stumbling
    block affecting my “living Trust”. Its almost like starting over. What a pain.
    I have spent more time an money on this DIY project, it would have been cheaper
    if I had just talked to an Attorney in the beginning ..

    Anyways than you for your insight.

    Steve C Clave

    • I hope you were able to get is sorted to your satisfaction Steve!

  25. Hi,
    I’m in California and my husband of 10yrs have me poa because he is incarcerated and I tried to cash or tax refund at a cash checking place after my bank declined my monlie deposit because his name wasn’t on it my account that is….anyway thecheack cashing place said they won’t accept my poa because it looks like it’s incomplete ( but it’s not) so they told me to go have it notarized and then they would accept it….I don’t know what to do I have 2 small children and I’m currently broke and really need the money oh and not to mention my name is 1st….horrible thing to do to people….

    • So Sorry Jessica. I am unaware of what your options are in the United States, as we focus on Canada. I am sorry I can’t be of assistance.

  26. Trying to help my dad, stumbling blocks in place….dad 91 married a woman 32 years younger than himself…
    I finally got bank to open new account to have wife go to bank three weeks later and have my dad open a new account.
    The bank says she would have to sign documents to get her off account.
    She worked full time and now just retired, she is now 59. They are marry 5 years…just this past August.
    What can I do to protect him….
    She now is asking him to sing over the house….

    • Hi Jean,

      If your father is still capable, then there is a limit to what you can do. You could suggest your father see a lawyer to get some guidance before making decisions such as signing over the house. It really sounds like legal advice is in order here.

  27. I am durable poa for my father and Chase is rejecting it because it is not dated above his signature. However, below his signature are two witnesses and their signatures and dates, one a nurse and the other a notary. There was also a third witness, a sibling. My father had a stroke and it was difficult for him to even hold a pen to sign, but he did. His lawyer has the POA on file and it is legitimate. My father is not able to pay his own bills now due to vision loss and immobility. As his POA, do I have the right to date it and sign as POA next to the date? If not, what would be necessary to rectify this so that I am able to set up all of his bills on auto pay through his Chase checking account? This is the only hangup in the entire document. Thank you. Tracey Vernon

    • Hi there Tracey,

      I doubt that you can legitimately sign the POA. It is best to check with the lawyer and/or make an appointment with the bank’s manager. Good luck!!

  28. My father gave me Power of Attorney recently after relocating to Florida to live with me. We recently found out he had an account in Ohio that he did not have any checks or debit card to get access to his funds. I sent a letter explaining that he has had a stroke and cannot communicate clearly and that I have POA and I am wanting to have him money switched to a local bank here. I just received a call from the Credit Union stating that my POA will not work because it has to have a clause in it releasing them from any liability. Has anyone else heard of this or have any suggestions on what I should do next?

    • Hi Lisa,

      I am not aware of such a clause. I would speak to the Bank Manager, and sorry to say, you may need to contact a lawyer to expedite this.

      Take good care, Jane

  29. Yes. I was just st Chade bank with my father last week, to revoke my aunt being poa to myself ( daughter/ caretaker) & the woman at the bank had told me it needed to be approved by the banking headquarters? And I would be contacted in a couple of days to come sign papers to release my aunt & insert my poa. I’m concerned. And is this approval protocol or even legitimate?

    • Hi Nicole,

      Different banks have different protocol. You could ask to speak to the Bank’s manager for clarification. Thanks for inquiry.


  30. In my case it was the bank where my mom and I both have accounts that Drew up the POA and my mother was present. She has dementia. They did not give me a copy of it. Don’t I need a copy of that for my own reference?

    • Hi Sheila,

      Yes, ideally you should have a copy. You can still ask the bank for a copy. Thanks for reaching out,


  31. Thanks for the article.

    Brother in-law died 2 weeks ago. He had a small RRSP that left it to his mother. His mother is incapacitated and his father has a POA written by a lawyer for her. Bank rejected the POA because his mother is not a customer of hers and they don’t know her.

    They offered us no solutions and told us to wait until the mother dies. Unacceptable.

  32. My husband and I have been married for 40 years, of the 40 years I have been looking after him for the last 20 years as he has MS and 3 years ago lost all ability to use his legs. He has the beginnings of Dementia. My husband and I wanted to get a credit line for fifteen thousand dollars to buy a vehicle, the bank said not unless my husband can awser all required questions, his income etc. My husband NEVER did the banking and has no clue about any of the financial stuff, never has in 40 years. He has not worked since 2001, I have worked for all of that time and now that I am retired they tell me I don’t make enough to have a credit line and unless he can answer ALL questions properly, NO can do!!! Ridiculous!!! I told them , just because he is handicapped doesn’t mean that WE don’t need a vehicle.

    Jean Manifold

    • I am so sorry to hear this Jean. I am wondering if there is another way you can buy a vehicle, something other than a credit line?

  33. I have POA on my spouse. I seem to have problems opening an account. Is it the norm for them to automatically contact their main office for approval?

    • Bank policies and procedures do vary Pam. I have noticed that people often seem to have trouble opening up an account with a POA. Good luck!

  34. Yesterday was my first experience getting my POA for my mom rejected. The lady/manager told me because it was a joint acct and business LLCs I had no access with my POA. My attorney told me it was complete bs and under FL law I do have access to any and every acct my mother is on. The crotchety banker said it was the banks rules even after she talked to legal, which I don’t believe she talked to anyone. I decided to try another branch and guess what? Viola! The woman at the other branch was wonderful and had no issues giving me access to ALL of my moms accounts. I believe even if it’s the banks rules it depends on the person you are dealing with and how trustworthy they feel you look. It’s all about profiling! PS can’t wait to make that call to the crotchety banker telling her she might need to read over their policies a few more times.

  35. PNC Bank is currently holding my sister’s funds and will not let anything come in or go out. I am the Power of Attorney for my sister who has Dementia.

  36. I am my mom POA who has currently been in the hospital for 3mths and is truly unable to make decisions for herself I went to the bank they honored what I asked for but now is asking for a letter from the Dr. Saying she can’t make decisions my mom is currently married but I Have POA over her the first time I used her POA there was no issue barely any questions just trying to research

    • It is pretty common for the banks to ask for a letter from the doctor. And what happens at the bank may be different than what happens at the hospital! Take good care, Jane

  37. My wife’s in the military, was activated in 2 wars. I was made power of attorney over her on our bank accounts. She is a trustee on a road maintenance fund on our subdivision at the same bank yet the bank denied me access to this account. Is this illegal?

    • Hi Jesse,

      Banks do have tremendous power to protect their clients’ funds/money. My suggestion is you discuss the situation with the Bank Manager and/or Bank Ombudsman and better yet, have both of you go to the bank together to resolve, when this is possible.

  38. Enduring Power of Attorney, prepared by a lawyer signed by “the client of sound mind” and the representative (attorney of client). If these documents are all in place and signed by the parties involved can a “bank” policy supersede this legal document?
    Read close as I’m asking about an enduring power of attorney not a POA?

    Thank you

    • Yes, they can, so still best for all parties to go together to the bank. Take care, Jane

  39. Anita DaveyThe Barksdale Federal Credit Union says:

    The Barksdale Federal Credit Union where my foster mom has banked sense they opened and I have been a member for almost 40 years refused our POA documents which were filed in court notorized by a liscened notary. She had the other POA revoked due to personal problems with the other party (her daughter). She tried to take over all aspects of my moms life. Wouldn’t give her money, took all her cards from her and kept be basically in the house with no transportation or money. So my mom said enough. My mom does not have Dementia or Alzheimer’s. And was her choice to change POA. The bank does not recognize it. They did for the other one but not the new.

  40. This is a topic which is near to my heart… Cheers! Exactly where are your contact details though?

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  43. Awesome! Its really remarkable post, I have got much clear idea on the topic of from
    this post.

    • Thanks so much for letting us know that Josh. It is a complicated subject!!

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    • Thanks for your complimentary words Lois. We write all of our content on Elizz.

  45. Bank of America refused my POA multiple times even though I explained that all I wanted were past statements to prove my sister was taking money. I knew there was no money left. I have found some original bank statements with Hundreds of Thousands of unaccountable missing money. Dealing with them has caused me a lot of undue distress!! The wealthy know what they can get away with and how. I wish someone could explain to me why it is legal to refuse a daughter with a POA to see past statements to either corroborate or disprove suspicions of elderly financial abuse of a parent.

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