By Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. of Hanlon Niemann & Wright, a Freehold, NJ Power of Attorney Lawyer

If you have been appointed as a power of attorney for a family member, one of the first things you may want to do is to put your name on a bank or brokerage account so that way you can authorize transactions on behalf of your ward.  When setting up accounts with banks and brokerage firms on behalf of an individual, you want the institution to accept your paperwork and to authorize you to transact business on their behalf so your loved one may be taken care of right away.  Fortunately, New Jersey law recognizes your authorization by way of a power of attorney, and requires banks and brokerage firms to recognize a power of attorney entered into, with some exceptions. Still, most banks, brokerage, and mutual funds give you a really hard time.

There are four different grounds that allow a bank to not recognize a power of attorney.  If the bank receives notice that one of the following events occurred, it is required under the law not to recognize the power of attorney and (the institution) automatically reject the person from signing off on the account.  However, if a bank employee has a genuine, good faith belief that one of these events has occurred, the bank can still deny the recognition of the power of attorney.  Note that for the last option, a bank needs to have a firm belief that one of those four events has occurred that makes the power of attorney invalid.  It can’t just say it is rejecting the power of attorney just because it feels suspicious or doesn’t pass “its” smell test.

The first ground is when the signature on the document is not genuine.  This is a tough way to deny recognition, as it requires an employee to know what the signature of the person looks like and to know that it is a totally different signature.  Another ground to deny a power of attorney is if the power of attorney has been already revoked.  This one is also a tough one to refute because unless it already knows what happened, a bank is not going to automatically know if the document is revoked.

The two other grounds are self-explanatory.  The first is whether the person who gave the authority under the power of attorney is dead.  Often times, the executor in charge of the estate will present the death certificate to the bank and ask it to put the funds in the name of the other person on the account, or to the person’s successors if the person died alone.  If a person claiming a power of attorney tries to get signature access for the account when this happens, the bank’s systems are immediately going to reject it.  The other ground is determining whether the person who holds the power of attorney is mentally disabled and incapacitated.  This may be flagged by a bank’s system if someone comes in with a genuine power of attorney over a person who claims to hold a power of attorney over another person.  But I would be curious to know what a court would accept if a bank rejected someone’s power of attorney on a good faith belief that they looked disabled.  That must be an interesting argument!

To discuss your NJ Power of Attorney matter, please contact Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. toll-free at (855) 376-5291 or email him at fniemann@hnlawfirm.com.  Please ask us about our video conferencing consultations if you are unable to come to our office.