On a Friday afternoon I went to my local branch of Bank of Numerica to look for something in my Safe Deposit Box. Despite the lack of helpfulness at my previous visit, I wanted to feel warm and fuzzy at this branch where we’d banked for nearly thirty years. The tellers used to look up, smile, and call us by name when we entered the branch. Now all those women were retired; no one knew me anymore.
The young clerk who brought over the signature card for the safe deposit boxes had to lift up a large red flag pasted over the line where my husband had signed his name so many years ago. “DECEASED,” it proclaimed in large black letters on the red paper. She silently watched me sign my name, then escorted me to the vault where I retrieved the needed item. Mercifully, she did not offer her condolences. The experience made me feel hopeful about continuing a relationship with the bank.
When I got home late in the afternoon, I checked my mailbox and found yet another letter from the Estate and Trust Department of Bank of Numerica. The letter requested that I contact the branch where my safe deposit box is “to make arrangements to close the box or assume ownership.”
What? I’d just interacted with a bank employee half-an-hour earlier, and she had not said anything to this effect, and for good reason. I am a full-fledged co-owner of the box; I can produce my key any time and gain access to it. I recalled the numerous times I’d gone into the box—putting away a ring, getting out a needed document, stashing a grandchild’s savings bond. I’d been there probably ten times for every one time my husband had been. Why would I have to close it or change ownership?
Because of the time zone difference, I had to wait until Monday to call Bank of Numerica’s Estate and Trust Division. After identifying myself and, once again, hearing sincere condolences expressed, I asked the service rep, “Can you explain what exactly the bank wants me to do about my safe deposit box?”
“If you want to keep it, you’ll need to put it in your own name.”
“Why? Since my husband is dead, it is now solely in my name.”
“It’s a protection for you.”
“Protection against what?”
“Against fraud. Someone could pose as your husband and get into the box.”
I wish I could write that I remained ladylike, but it wouldn’t be true. I began to yell. I railed for every widow everywhere—railed against the indignities of our corporate giants, their nonsensical rules, and their poorly trained service reps. “How could there POSSIBLY be fraud when the bank’s signature card has a huge red sign stuck on it proclaiming my husband is deceased?” I bellowed. “Let me get this straight. You’re telling me that a man could walk into the bank, pretending to be a dead person, and a bank employee would allow him to sign into my safe deposit box? Or maybe you are worried that the dead guy himself . . . a zombie? . . . will come in and sign the signature card with a steady (albeit bony) hand, and walk off with all my valuables?”
I was so angry I could barely think, but I kept yelling. When I was done, the service rep’s voice sounded weak and far away. “It’s just an option, Ma’am . . . you don’t really have to do anything . . . you can just leave it like it is.”
And when I said thank you (so sarcastically it scared me), the service rep replied, “You’re welcome. Is there anything else I help you with today?”
I’m proud to say I held my tongue.