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Managing a Loved One's Money

Naomi Karp from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau offers advice on avoiding scams and financial exploitation

Question: Have you heard of the True Link Visa card that is for older adults? It allows an administrator to monitor and manage what companies are allowed to charge to the card. You can block certain vendors and types of transactions. Is this a good thing to pursue?

Naomi Karp: There are some banks that currently allow third-party "view only" access that will allow you to monitor activity on accounts. I suggest checking with the bank of the older adult and seeing if this is an option.

Question: How can I protect my mother's money while she's in a nursing home?

Naomi Karp: You and several others have questions about nursing homes and financing.

If you have questions about what happens to your relative's or friend's money or property if she is in a nursing facility, talk to your state Medicaid agency or consult an elder-law attorney, who can advise you on planning for long-term care and the relevant laws. The Managing Someone Else's Money guides have some resources for finding legal help. Also, the American Bar Association has a Web page, findlegalhelp.org. You can find a listing of state agencies that provide Medicaid or medical assistance on the federal website benefits.gov.

Question: What do I need to do in order to have my name added as power of attorney? Have it on the mortgage? What do I have to do so I can pay her bills through her accounts?

Naomi Karp: You are smart to think about how you can handle finances for your relative if she is sick and can't handle her own money. A power of attorney is one of the ways that people arrange for someone else to manage their money and property if they can't do it themselves. Powers of attorney are legal documents.

People plan in advance by naming someone else to make decisions for them if they become sick or injured. Sometimes they are called durable powers of attorney because they remain in effect after the person loses the ability to handle his or her own affairs.

In order to make a power of attorney, your mother must understand what it means to give someone else the power to manage her money. Once a person becomes incapacitated — let's say due to Alzheimer's disease or another dementia — it's probably too late to make a power of attorney.

That's why it's so important to plan ahead. If a person receives a diagnosis, she may still be able to make legal arrangements before the disease progresses, so consult a lawyer promptly in a case like that.

Once you become an agent under a power of attorney, you can do all of the things the document says you can do. So, for example, usually you can pay bills, make mortgage payments and possibly even sell real estate if the document gives you that power.

But you have to remember that it's not your money and that you are acting for your relative's benefit.

As I mentioned earlier, my agency, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, has guides to help you carry out your duties. You can find the Managing Someone Else's Money guide for agents under power of attorney atconsumerfinance.gov/older-americans, and then click on the power of attorney guide.

Even though no one likes to think about the possibility that he or she may become incapacitated, it always helps to plan for that possibility.

Editor's Note: This Q&A originally appeared on Facebook. It has been edited for clarity.

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