Dear Liz: My mother has two credit cards that have had no activity for a year and a half due to being in an assisted living facility. She is living with dementia and no longer able to make any decisions (personal or financial) on her own. Should I or am I even able to cancel these cards or do I have to wait until she passes and send in a death certificate to the bank?
Answer: Theoretically you could close the accounts for her if you have a legal document known as a financial power of attorney. These documents are designed to help you take over the finances of someone who is incapacitated.
Unfortunately, banks and credit card issuers sometimes refuse to honor powers of attorney despite legal requirements that they do so. You might need to hire an attorney to force them to accept your authority. You can get referrals to experienced attorneys from the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and the American Bar Assn.
If you don’t have this document and your mother is no longer of sound mind, you probably would have to go to court to become her conservator to make financial decisions for her. That can be an expensive process.
But there might be a simple solution. Some credit cards have an “off” switch that prevents anyone from making charges on the account. If the card has this feature and you can access the account online, you may be able to effectively disable the account even if you can’t formally close it.
Liz Weston, Certified Financial Planner, is a personal finance columnist for NerdWallet. Questions may be sent to her at 3940 Laurel Canyon, No. 238, Studio City, CA 91604, or by using the “Contact” form at asklizweston.com.