During the recession, several friends of mine struggled to hang onto their houses. One friend in Wellesley who fought the good fight, but ultimately lost her house, told me how Kafkaesque it was to deal with the bank that held the mortgage. They would tell her what she had to provide, which forms to fill out and send in, etc., and then when she called to follow-up they would claim never to have received the paperwork. This happened not once, not twice, but over and over. The fact that she was ultimately able to sell her house and move to California with her sanity intact is a great testament to the human spirit.
It turns out that one’s house doesn’t need to be underwater to experience that kind of sanity-testing craziness. Most recently, my nemesis was Discover, the bank I chose to use for one of my parents’ maturing CDs. It was simple enough to set up the account as my father’s Power of Attorney (POA). The woman on the other end of the phone asked me questions and I supplied answers: names, birthdays, and social security numbers. The Discover representative then explained that she would send me a signature card to sign, which I could then send back with the check and a copy of the POA. And so she did, and so I did, and for a short time I felt pretty sharp for having found an interest rate that was .25% higher than all the others.
But then Discover sent me back a copy of the signature card I had sent them, indicating that it was missing a signature. A simple mistake, I thought, naively, and called them. The first woman I spoke to insisted that I had not returned the necessary paperwork. I calmly pointed out that they must have received it, because they had sent me back a copy. We repeated those steps a few times as I became less and less calm, at which point she said she couldn’t discuss it with me because my name wasn’t on the account, even though I was staring at my name and signature on the signature card. Fortunately, I was at my parents’ house, so I brought the phone to my father and he dutifully recited his particulars and gave her permission to speak to me. She was then able to access the account and see the allegedly missing papers. However, the problem wasn’t solved yet.
Analyzing CDs related to Trust accounts was apparently above her pay grade. She transferred me to someone in the Account Documentation Department. That sounded promising, but alas, it was not. After asking how he could help me, Jasper explained that the signature card needed my father’s signature, despite the fact that I had signed as his POA, and submitted a copy of the POA to support my right to do so. Sadly for Jasper, the previous representative had sapped me of all my patience so the tail-chasing that ensued skipped right over the calm part. Entrenched in our positions as we were, I finally explained that my father could no longer sign his name. Jasper, sensing a happy end to our stand-off, said with relief, “No problem! You just need to get a letter from his doctor indicating that he can’t sign his name.” Instead, at a decibel level I am ashamed of, I instructed Jasper to return our funds.
So, today’s lesson is go to medical school, because a doctor’s signature on a letter saying my father can’t sign his name trumps my father’s signature on the POA, which was also signed by two witnesses, and notarized by his lawyer. Not very powerful, that Power of Attorney.