RBC bank branch blocks frail housebound senior from getting her pension cheques

·National Affairs Contributor

If you go by TV commercials, banking seems easy, hip even.

But if you're someone like Nellie Graham, a housebound 94-year-old woman, banking can be a nightmare.

Graham's daughter, Linda, could not get the local RBC branch in Vancouver where Nellie's ailing husband has the family account, to cash her mother's pension cheques, even though she has power of attorney, giving her the right to handle her mother's affairs.

Linda Graham told CBC News thousands of dollars in pension cheques went uncashed because the bank wouldn't honour a previous agreement to let her handle the money.

Nellie is in a wheelchair, has poor eyesight and can't leave the house, while husband Reg's health problems also keep him at home, CBC News reported.

Until last April, Linda was able to cash her mother's pension cheques for her, depositing them into the account Reg has had there for 54 years. Nellie has never had a bank account of her own.

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The transactions were done under an arrangement with the branch's previous manager, who came to the elderly couple's house and inspected Linda's power-of-attorney document to ensure everything was above board.

But a new manager suddenly voided the deal, saying it was not allowed because Nellie was a "third party" not named on her husband's account, CBC News said.

"I said, 'My mother is disabled. She cannot leave the house under her own power to come and open an account.' And it just fell on deaf ears," said Linda Graham.

The bank also refused to let her open the account on her mother's behalf under her power of attorney.

"I took the power of attorney papers in. They were photocopied and sent to the [RBC] head office in Toronto," said Graham. "Those were turned down as well because they weren't explicit enough."

About $4,000 in Nellie's uncashed pension cheques accumulated while the bank stonewalled the family.

"I think it's disgraceful," said her daughter. "And it's cruel that they are treating two elderly people with such disrespect — that have been long term clients."

Things changed, though after CBC News Go Public reporter Kathy Tomlinson contacted the bank. Three staff members from the local branch showed up at the Graham home to help Nellie open a joint account that allows her daughter to do the banking.

"We sincerely regret the difficulty that Linda Graham experienced in cashing her mother's cheques and we have rectified the situation," said RBC spokesman Ian Colvin. "Our employees' intentions were to ensure that Mrs. Graham was fully protected."

But there was never any question that Linda Graham was misusing her position. She told CBC News she always handed over the cash to her mother, along with updated bank records.

"It just makes me furious — that this was not taken care of at the very beginning," Linda Graham said. "What really gets me is the arrogance and the rudeness that I have encountered."

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A spokeswoman for the Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP) said the Grahams are not alone in facing this kind of issue.

"This is something that is happening across the country," said Susan Eng.

She said a recent poll of 1,600 CARP members revealed one-third said someone else had power of attorney over their affairs. Of that group, 10 per cent had been refused service by a Canadian bank because it would not accept the power of attorney, Eng told CBC News.

"If even they are coming into problems like this, then I think the problem is far more widespread than even our polls are showing," Eng said.

But CARP has also warned about the potential pitfalls involved with power of attorney and urged the elderly to educate themselves about the process.

Nellie Graham's ordeal was strikingly familar to Aman Patel of Toronto, who told CBC News he still hasn't forgiven Scotiabank for the hell they put his dying 73-year-old mother, Amar, through two years ago.

Despite suffering from terminal breast cancer, the bank refused to honour the power of attorney she'd given her son so he could cash in her silver certificates.

As the Globe and Mail reported in 2010, the bank forced her to leave her bed and use her commode chair to make the agonizing trip to the bank to cash the certificates.

"To watch her go through this and swallow the pain, it was horrific," Aman Patel, a criminal lawyer, told CBC News. "It was a complete stripping of her dignity."

His mother died six weeks later.

The Canadian Banker's Association said banks can't always accommodate people in such cases.

"Some of the common difficulties that banks see with improperly prepared power of attorney documents include vague language, a lack of clarity, undated documents and changes made in the document that are not initialed," said spokeswoman Rachel Swiednicki.

"There can also be concerns with whether a customer was of a sound mind when the power of attorney was granted."

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