It seemed like the simplest of tasks.
My mother asked me to go up to the bank at Kahala Mall with her because she wanted to add my name to the checking account used to pay household expenses. She also wanted to add my name to her safety deposit box where she keeps an original signed copy of her trust documents.
Just in case. My mom turned 95 in May, and at that age there’s more “just in case” planning to do, if you’re still as sharp as she is.
Bank of Hawaii’s branch at Kahala Mall is literally only a couple of minutes away from my parents’ home. My mother has banked there as long as there’s been a Kalaha branch, and for years before that at other BOH branches, back when Kahala was just a fringe of houses on the perimeter of the farms.
She’s probably banked with this company for 60 years or more, much of that time here in Kahala.
Anyway, I picked her up at the house and drove her up to the mall.
We only had to wait a couple of minutes, literally, before being ushered to a couple of seats in a cubicle on the edge of the main bank lobby. A friendly woman sat behind the desk.
“How can I help you?”
My mother explained and then passed a copy of her latest bank statement across the desk, showing the account number and other info. She also has a bank form which my dad signed in a now illegible scrawl. He’s also named on this joint account.
“No problem,” the bank lady said, her fingers taping a few instructions into her computer. “I’ll just need to see your current identification,” she added, looking first at me.
That made sense. I’m the newcomer getting added to the account. I did into my wallet and get out my drivers license, pass it over. She types the relevant information, asks me to confirm address and date of birth. So far so good.
Then she looks at my mother. “Mrs. Lind? Could I see your ID? When we update an account, we need to get the current information.”
My mother doesn’t hear well, so I initiate the response.
“What kind of identification do you need?”
I explain that my mom is 95 and did not renew her drivers license on her last birthday, back in May. So she does not have a currently valid drivers license.
Bank lady tries again. “How about a State ID?”
Nope. Never had one. Wasn’t required.
“Passport?” Nope. She hasn’t done any international travel in years.
Worry comes over bank lady’s face, just about the time that another bank official stops as she’s going by, recognizes my mother, and calls out, “Good morning, Mrs. Lind.”
It was very surreal.
Visual i.d. made by staff, but that doesn’t help. Obviously, the bank has some kind of rule. Change anything in your account and you had better have some darn good way to prove that you’re you. Even if they know who you are.
Just why a recently expired drivers license with photo can’t be used for identification purposes by the elderly is hard to fathom, especially in a case like this where the person is already known to the business.
One of life’s little mysteries, I guess.
Anyway, bank lady decides to plunge ahead, leaving my mother’s identify in limbo.
“If you can just bring in your father’s ID…” She looks at my disbelieving face, trails off.
I explain. He’s suffering from dementia and alzheimer’s. He’s been in a nursing home since late last year. He has no valid drivers license, it expired on his 95th birthday last December. He can’t drive. He can’t remember that he can’t drive. No,he does not have a valid passport. Why that should be a problem for his local branch bank bothers me.
Bank lady gets on the phone, searching for help elsewhere in the bank. I can hear her whisper, trying to explain to someone downtown why the rules are breaking down. “They’re 95,” she says softly but urgently. No drivers license. No passport. No identity? So it seems.
Meanwhile, I’m looking at my mother’s wallet. She’s got a credit card with her photo, issued by this very bank. Apparently not good enough to verify the identification of a client of more than half a century. She’s got her Medicaid card. No good. She’s got various membership cards. Nothing that seems to fit the bank’s need.
So with things still in limbo, we turn to task two. Put my name on her safety deposit box. Same issues. No ID? No way.
Finally, from one of those downtown folks being consulted, comes an idea. I think bank lady said “e-funds”. What that means, I don’t know. But somehow e-funds information associated with the checking account has somehow smoothed the bureaucratic waters and provided a way out.
The transaction proceeds. She’s not 100% certain that it’s all going to pass muster, but at least she can move it past her desk.
So we sign some final papers for the safety deposit box. The whole struggle with this loss of identity has taken well over an hour. My mother is impatient, ready to leave. The bank releases us just in time. Bank lady smiles. We smile politely.
My parents can’t be the only folks in town who have outlived their various forms of identification papers. It’s not their fault. With people generally living longer, it’s bound to be a growing issue.
In my parents case, we sic the lawyers on the bank, if it comes to that. But what happens to those without family resources to cut through the bureaucracy?
Why not let people get state IDs at the same time they get or renew drivers licenses? Could the state delegate ID powers to the counties? Same photo, same information, two different cards, and a clear answer to the “how do you prove who you are if you don’t drive” issue.
In any case, it’s just one more aggravating aspect of aging.