Fourth Quarter 2019
The Rutkowski Report. Keeping Your Family Healthy, Wealthy and Wise

In This Issue

The Bank Has Refused Your Financial Power of Attorney. Now What?

Social Security Phone Scams Have Become a Greater Threat than IRS Scams

Why You Must Keep Your Estate Plan Up-to-Date

A Personal Note From Rutkowski Law Firm

Man and woman speaking with attorney about their power of attorney

The Bank Has Refused Your Financial Power of Attorney. Now What?

You encouraged your aging loved one to execute a power of attorney (POA) document. You worked together to plan for the unexpected and thought you had your ducks in a row. Now your loved one has become incapacitated and the bank is refusing to give you access to his or her accounts. How is it possible that the bank can do this if you have been legally granted financial power of attorney?

A recent article in AgingCare explored this scenario. Here are some of the key takeaways, beginning with the three most common reasons a bank might refuse a POA.

The POA is not durable

If the POA appointing you as agent is not "durable" it will only be valid while your loved one (the principal) is of sound mind. A durable POA, on the other hand, continues to be effective after the principal becomes incapacitated and can no longer manage his or her finances.

The POA is "springing" and has not been activated

If a POA is "springing" it will only become effective when the principal becomes incapacitated. In this case, incapacity must be proven according to the terms outlined in the POA document. A generic springing POA will typically stipulate that at least one doctor has examined the principal and determined that he or she is unable to manage financial affairs. In such a situation, the bank will want to see the POA, together with the doctor's letter(s) and any other documents necessary to satisfy the requirements for activating the POA.

The POA is "stale"

A bank may refuse to grant access to your loved one's bank accounts simply because it deems the POA "too old." The legal concept of "staleness" implies that if a POA is old, there is a chance the principal has revoked the power or signed a new POA to replace the old one.

This is why POA documents should be kept "fresh" by signing new ones at least every five years.

It is important to understand that when a bank refuses to accept a POA, it is not necessarily being "difficult" or unreasonable. The bank can be sued if it allows the wrong person to access an account, or grants access under the wrong circumstances. Similarly, the bank wants to protect its customers' funds.

However, if the bank proves uncooperative, hiring an attorney to make a phone call or send a sternly worded letter to the bank manager will likely resolve the issue.

Of course, working with an experienced estate planning attorney to create a comprehensive and robust durable financial POA may very well prevent these frustrating scenarios in the first place.

You can read AgingCare's full article on this subject at

Social Security Phone Scams Have Become a Greater Threat than IRS Scams

In the last six years, nearly 15,000 people have lost a total of more than $72 million on IRS phone scams. While these scams vary in approach, they typically threaten people with immediate arrest unless the victim pays the caller quickly using a wire transfer, gift card, or prepaid debit card.

IRS scams have historically been one of the most common tactics used by phone scammers. However, scammers are using a new tactic this year, one that involves the victim's Social Security information. In fact, according to FTC complaint data and information from background check provider BeenVerified, reports of Social Security scams increased by a factor of 23 in the first six months of 2019.

In April, the FTC revealed that $6.7 million in reported losses were recorded in the previous two months alone, with the scam targeting all age groups. Actual losses were undoubtedly higher since many people do not report that they have been scammed.

Like the IRS scam, victims are often instructed to pay with gift cards, but other forms of payment like bitcoin and putting cash into bitcoin ATMs have also been used. The approach is somewhat similar to the IRS scam as well.

Scammers frequently utilize official-sounding language, badge numbers, and fictitious lawsuits to intimidate victims into paying quickly.

BeenVerified provided the following example:

"This message is from the legal department of the Social Security Administration. My federal badge ID is SSA 456. The purpose of this call is regarding an enforcement action, which has been executed by the U.S. Treasury against your Social Security number."

While only 3.4% of people who report an attempted phone scam actually fall for it, the median amount of damages is $1,500. According to the FTC, this is four times higher than the median individual loss for all frauds.

Given the prevalence and long history of the IRS phone scam, together with public education efforts undertaken by the IRS, more people today understand that the IRS would never call and demand immediate payment for anything. These development accounts, in part, for phone scammers changing their tactics and focusing on the Social Security scam. It is important for people to understand that the Social Security Administration will not use a recorded message to demand immediate payment, threaten a lawsuit, suspend one's Social Security number, and other nefarious, fraudulent claims. If you receive such a call, ignore it. Or better yet, report it.

Why You Must Keep Your Estate Plan Up-to-Date

Many people experience a sense of relief when their estate plan is completed. This is understandable. It's a great feeling to know you have thoughtfully prepared for your future financial, physical and emotional well-being, as well as that of the people you care about most. But does that mean you can just put your plan in a desk drawer and never think about it again? Absolutely not. Keeping your plan up to date is just as important as creating a well-designed plan in the first place. The reason for this can be summed up in a single word: Change.

Your needs will inevitably change as you grow older. So, too, will your health, financial situation, income, and the overall value of your assets. The needs of your loved ones will change as well. After all, people get divorced and remarry; they have children; they buy and sell homes, start a business, change jobs; and sometimes, they suffer unforeseen financial difficulties like bankruptcy, or personal problems like alcoholism. By having your plan reviewed and updated, you are able to take the changes that are part of life into account, and better protect both you and your loved ones.

In addition, the law itself is constantly changing. New laws take effect that make some options for protecting assets less attractive than they were previously. Similarly, new opportunities arise for wealth preservation and growth.

How often should your plan be reviewed? If you have experienced a major change in your financial situation or health, or the personal and/or financial situations of your beneficiaries have changed dramatically, you should have your plan reviewed immediately. And even if the personal, physical and financial situation of you and your loved ones has not changed, you should have your plan reviewed at least every two years to make sure your plan takes into account changes to the law, changes to the tax code and changes to the financial landscape.


As 2019 comes to a close, you will likely think about all of the changes that have taken place over the course of the year. If you believe any of them might impact your estate plan's effectiveness, we urge you to have your plan reviewed.

A Personal Note From Rutkowski Law Firm

Donna Barkho, Attorney

Join Us in Welcoming Donna Barkho to Rutkowski Law Firm

The Rutkowski Law Firm is pleased to announce that Donna Barkho has recently joined the firm and will represent clients in the areas of estate planning and elder law. Donna is practicing out of our Macomb office.

Donna began her career practicing general law and quickly realized that she wanted to do more to help families. She now focuses on the areas of estate planning and elder law. Her empathetic nature, passion for helping seniors, and commitment to client service makes her a welcome addition to our team. Donna derives a great deal of personal and professional satisfaction from helping her clients plan and prepare for whatever the future may hold.

Donna earned her J.D. from Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School and her B.A. in Criminal Justice from Wayne State University. She is a member of the American Bar Association, the Oakland County Bar Association, and the Chaldean American Bar Association.

Active in the community, Donna was a youth group leader and Catechist, teaching catechism to first, second, and third graders. She also volunteered at St. Joseph Chaldean Catholic Church, where she assisted with a variety of programs for children and adults alike.

Born and raised in Michigan, Donna enjoys exploring the Great Lake State, as well as traveling to experience new places and cultures. Outside of the office, Donna likes to spend as much time as possible with family and friends. She enjoys watching baseball and movies, sketching and drawing, baking, and learning to play the piano.

Please join us to welcome Donna to Rutkowski Law Firm!