How to Gain Access to Bank Accounts With a Power of Attorney

By Heather Frances J.D.

When you aren’t able to manage your bank accounts, a power of attorney can help. A power of attorney document lets you name someone else, known as your agent, to act on your behalf. You can create a power of attorney authorizing your agent to access your bank account or take other actions with your bank. However, policies differ among banks and state laws vary regarding powers of attorney.

Special Vs. General Power of Attorney

Your agent can only take the actions you authorize him to take, so you must include language in your power of attorney to describe the boundaries of your agent’s authority. For example, if you want your agent to have the power to access your accounts at one bank but not others, you can specify that limitation in your power of attorney. This creates a special, or limited, power of attorney. Alternatively, you can give your agent broad authority to access all of your accounts, which is called a general power of attorney.

Identification Requirements

Banks can be sued if they incorrectly allow agents to access someone’s account, so your bank will take precautions to ensure they aren’t letting an unauthorized person have access. Banks will want to see a copy of your power of attorney before allowing your agent to access your accounts, and they may want to make a copy of the power of attorney to place in your account records. Your agent will also have to present identification to prove that he is the person named in the document. However, banks may accept or reject powers of attorney; therefore, you cannot force a bank to accept your documents.

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Account Numbers

You may want to check with your bank to ensure it will accept the power of attorney you create. Banks are more likely to accept special powers of attorney rather than general powers of attorney because they provide clear evidence of your intent to allow your agent to access a specific account. Some banks require that your power of attorney document list the account numbers for the accounts you want your agent to access, so you may want to list your account numbers just in case.

Beneficiary Designations

Even if your power of attorney specifically identifies your accounts, banks generally will not allow your agent to change beneficiary designations on your accounts unless your power of attorney specifically grants this authority. For example, if you have a payable-on-death, or POD, account that lists your daughter as the beneficiary, your son cannot change the beneficiary, even if he has a power of attorney that gives him authority to access that account. Additionally, some state laws do not permit banks to allow such beneficiary changes without specific authorization language in your power of attorney document.

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