Taking financial responsibility for the dead or dying

Starting to work on Bonnie’s estate taxes yesterday reminded me
of how difficult it was when she was heavily sedated and I had to
take over the power of attorney so that her bills would get
paid.

I don’t mean the difficulty of feeling bad because your friend
is dying or of visiting someone in the hospital who isn’t able to
respond to you and not knowing what to do about that.

I mean the set of completely pointless obstacles the banks and
other financial institutions put in the way of letting someone
with a valid power of attorney get access to the resources they
need to do their job.

This didn’t appear in the first week — I took the copy of the
power of attorney Bonnie had signed to the bank where she had her
checking account and showed it and my driver’s licence to the bank
officer and she told me how to sign the checks and what the
password on her online banking was, and then I was able to use the
checking account. This is the kind of nuisance I had expected it
to be when I signed up for the job.

Unfortunately, the checking account didn’t have very much money
in it, and the next thing I had to do was get money out of her
retirement account.

I had assumed this would be the same kind of nuisance —
Bonnie’s retirement account was at Pioneer Investments
in downtown Boston, where Bonnie had worked as a phone
representative for the last decade or
two of her working career, so I thought I could just go there and
show them the power of attorney and they would give me her
money.

Unfortunately, Pioneer isn’t actually a consumer level
financial services firm — they really expect to sell their
products to you through a broker or your employer. So they don’t
have an office with people like the bank officer who can look at
your power of attorney, and you have to do it through the
mail.

Now of course, the people who talked to me on the phone about
what I needed to send them had several ideas about what I needed
to do. One option would have been to have her sign their
specific
power of attorney form. This would have been
possible for a while in March or April, after she woke up from the
surgery, and
before she stopped being able to move a pencil. It’s possible that if you’re thinking about this for
someone before they get into the state where they need you to do
it, you should just have them get the power of attorney from the
institution that holds most of their resources. But really, the
one the lawyer wrote for Bonnie should have been enough, and I
started this while she was unconscious, and didn’t really finish
until she wasn’t able to write any more.

What they eventually decided I needed to do was to send a
certified copy of the POA along with a guaranteed
letter describing what I wanted them to do. This guarantee is
something a bank manager needs to do for you, and he or she is
stamping your letter with something that says he believes you are
who you say you are.

So I assumed Bonnie’s bank, which was convenient to the
hospital I was visiting her at and her house, which I was visiting
from time to time, would do this for me, and I went there to ask
them to do it.

The first person I talked to called the central office, which
said she needed to see one of their statements before she could
guarantee my letter. Finding anything in Bonnie’s house wasn’t
easy, but I eventually managed to find a statement and went back
to the bank. The officer I had talked to was getting out her
seal, when her supervisor got involved in the transation, and gave
it as her opinion that they couldn’t guarantee my signature
because I wasn’t their customer.

She was really unpleasant about this — I even offered to set up a
small account so that I would personally be a customer and she
wouldn’t even listen to me. It was very clearly a “We don’t want
to do business with you,” reaction. It really happened before I’d
done or said anything at all to her, so it couldn’t have been
personal. The only theory I could come up with was that she was
assuming that Bonnie and I were in a lesbian relationship and she
didn’t want to have anything to do with that.

I really meant to write a letter to that bank explaining to
them why Bonnie’s money all disappeared from their bank shortly
after that. That kind of customer service really can’t possible
be the bank policy, and there may be people there who want to know
it’s happening. I haven’t done it yet, but maybe I will. I
didn’t write some of what I thought I should to the doctors, either.

I could of course have gotten the guarantee from my own bank,
but their nearest office is downtown, and I was still using a
crutch after hip surgery. So instead of going there I
decided to try the bank around the corner first. They were very
nice, and were happy to guarantee my signature after I set up an
account for Bonnie with the money from the bank I didn’t like.

So then I had to struggle some more with Pioneer, because I
hadn’t really understood their account numbering system, and I
asked to withdraw $15,000, which was much less than she had in all
her accounts, but more than was in the specific account whose
number I had copied off a statement. I think I had two
conversations with first-line people and it was after some yelling
and screaming at the second one (who was saying something
completely different from the first one) and some “May I speak to
your manager” that they finally sent me the money.

When I had to do roughly the same thing after Bonnie died, of
course I had the tame bank manager around the corner to guarantee
the signature, and I’d figured out what part of the account number
to copy. I’d also decided that mentioning my lawyer couldn’t
possibly hurt. So that went quite smoothly.

In case you have to do this, here’s the letter that worked:

I am enclosing certified copies of the Death Certificate and my
Decree of Temporary Executor in the estate of
Bonnie J. Rogers, one of your shareholders.

I would like to close out all the Pioneer funds she owned, which
are under the account number xxxxxxxx.

Please do not deduct taxes from this money. The TIN for the estate is
xx-xxx-xxxx.

Please send the check to me at:
xxx Xxxxxx
Cambridge, MA 02139

If you have a problem with this request,
please send a copy of your response to my lawyer, *redacted*, at:
xx X St.
Rockport, MA 01966

Thank you for your assistance,

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