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.
Offsetting home sale taxes
Dear Liz: We recently sold a house and have taxes to pay on the proceeds. I’m wondering if we can take some of the proceeds and put them into 401(k) accounts, and pay taxes on them later?
Answer: You can’t do this directly, since 401(k) contributions are made through payroll deductions. If you haven’t already maxed out your retirement contributions, however, you could increase your contribution rate to offset some of the taxable income you created when you sold the house. Some employers allow you to contribute 100% of your pay, up to the IRS contribution limits. In 2022, the limit is $20,500 for people under 50 and $27,000 for people 50 and older.
You also could contribute $6,000 to an IRA (or $7,000 if you’re 50 and older), but your ability to deduct the contribution depends on your income if you’re covered by a workplace plan such as a 401(k). If you’re married filing jointly and have a workplace plan, your ability to deduct an IRA contribution phases out with modified adjusted gross income of $109,000 to $129,000.
Remember that you can exempt up to $250,000 of home sale profits (or $500,000 for a couple) if you owned and lived in the property as your primary residence for at least two of the last five years. You also may be able to reduce the taxable gain if you kept good records of qualifying home improvements. For more information, see IRS Publication 523, Selling Your Home.
Don’t forget ‘Where’s My Refund?’
Dear Liz: My CPA left off some income when electronically filing my return at the end of March. The CPA filed a corrected return a few days later. I’m owed $10,895 and still haven’t received my refund. What happened to the 21-day refund period for e-filing? I can’t get through to the IRS on the phone. The state refunded my money in only eight days.
Answer: The IRS tries to process refunds within three weeks when taxpayers file electronically and use direct deposit. But that timeframe goes out the window if there are any problems, especially in recent years.
The IRS is still dealing with a massive backlog triggered by the pandemic. The agency was already struggling with antiquated computer systems and a dwindling workforce because of years of underfunding. Then its processing centers were shuttered by lockdowns, followed by congressional orders to distribute hundreds of millions of payments (the three economic relief payments, followed by six months of advanced child tax credit payments).
You can use the “Where’s My Refund?” tool on the IRS site to track the status of your refund, but unfortunately there’s not much you can do to hurry things along.
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.