Credit Cards

My Spouse Has Dementia & I Can’t Cancel His Credit Card

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A reader wrote to us to ask about canceling a credit card belonging to her husband, who has dementia. The card, which had never been used, had begun to charge an annual fee. She has power of attorney, but the card issuer still refused to allow her to close the account. She wrote:

Since I can’t close the account and my husband can’t either, I was told to send a copy of my Power of Attorney. I received a letter back stating that even though I have power of attorney, I still cannot make any changes on his account. Since I’m now in Dante’s circle of you-know-what, how can I get this account closed?

The issue can be tricky because a power of attorney doesn’t necessarily mean you can close an account. It’s important to know what financial actions you will be permitted take on someone else’s behalf. In some cases, you may be empowered only to perform basic maintenance functions and make payments. Someone with power of attorney is not typically liable for the debt. However, if you have power of attorney and are monitoring a credit card, it’s important to know if it’s a joint account (and if so, with whom) and whether there are authorized users on the account. You can monitor the account via monthly statements or online. It’s also a good idea to call Cardmember Services — their number will be on the back of the card — and inform them of the situation. They should be able to give you advice on how to proceed.

You can also find some general advice for financial caretaking from the National Consumer Protection Bureau, in “Managing Someone Else’s Money.”

As for our reader, she carefully managed to step outside Dante’s Circle:

I solved the problem by having a notary come to my husband’s bedside and witness his “signature” on a letter requesting cancellation of the card. I use quotes around the word “signature” since he can’t really even write his name and the squiggle passed as a signature. The bank also waived the annual fee.

She said that she and her husband both have excellent credit, and that the card didn’t have a fee when he applied for it. And once she ran into roadblocks trying to cancel the card, she found lots of complaints about the issuer online. But knowing she was far from alone in her frustration didn’t solve her problem. However, the pluck suggested by her signature tagline — Girl Genius — did.

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