DEAR HARRY: My 81-year-old mother co-signed for my brother's student loans. Unfortunately, he is no longer able to pay as a result of losing his job. Mother made a couple of payments, then fell behind. The loans are with her bank, and the bank just withdrew $9,000 from her savings account without notifying her in advance. When she questioned this, the branch manager showed her chapter and verse that the bank had this right. This bank also has her 401(k) money, and she is desperately afraid that they will grab that without notifying her. Can they?

WHAT HARRY SAYS: They cannot. Both federal and Pennsylvania law say it is free from creditors' claims. I can clearly remember from my early days at Wharton, a law professor screaming at us about co-signing or otherwise agreeing to be responsible for the debt of someone else, even family. "Don't do it unless you realize that it can very easily turn out be your own debt." He went on further with stats that showed that almost half of those guarantees hit the guarantor in his bank account. I have not seen recent data, but I have no doubt that the percentage has not changed appreciably. I hope your brother is responsible enough to repay your mother when he is able.