Elderly Mom needn't worry about ailing Dad's debts
With few jointly shared assets and little income, he's judgment proof
By Tanisha Warner
Tanisha Warner is the communications manager for Money Management International, where she manages educational content designed to teach consumers about personal finance topics. She writes "Credit Care," a weekly reader Q&A about debt issues, for CreditCards.com.
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Dear Credit Care,
My question is regarding my parents. My Dad is 86
years old with Alzheimer's, diabetes, strokes and heart attacks. He has no life
insurance, no savings -- only Social Security, which pays for his rent and other
necessities. He has outstanding debt which he cannot pay. My 84-year-old Mom, who is in great
health, is his caretaker. She is struggling to meet financial demands. She
needs to know if she is responsible for his outstanding debt. Her name is not
on the credit card balance due -- other debts she is covering between her Social
Security and his. So, his outstanding debt while he is alive, but not able to
function on his own, is what she needs to know about. She lives in Michigan. Thanks. --
I am sorry to hear about your father's physical
and mental ailments. I understand why your mother is concerned about the debt
in your father's name only. She has enough to deal with without adding
Because your mother and father live in Michigan, which is not a community property state, any credit obligations that are owned by your father and in
his name only are not the responsibility of your mother to pay. Whoever holds
your father's power of attorney should write a polite but firm letter to your
father's creditors and let them know the situation. Explain that your father is
not able to care for himself or his finances and does not have the income to
pay what he owes and will not be making any further payments. Send the letter
certified mail with a return receipt and keep a copy for your records.
You might also let the creditors know that his
sole source of income is Social Security benefits and he owns no real property (real estate).
The reason to include these statements is that it lets the creditors know that
should they decide to sue your father to collect what is owed, a judgment
earned by the suit would not be collectible. A judgment can be used to garnish
wages or banking accounts, but Social Security benefits are exempt from
garnishment with the exception of some government debt and child and/or spousal
support. In addition, your father has no property for the creditor to execute
the judgment and place a lien on the property. Your father is what is known as
Even with the information that your father is
judgment proof, the creditors may still turn the balances due over to
collections, particularly should your father owe a large amount on his credit
card accounts. For peace of mind for your family and your mother, you might
consider hiring an attorney who specializes in working with collectors to
communicate with them should your mother be contacted about the debt. When
contacted, simply let the collector know that you are being represented by an
attorney and give the collector his or her contact information. The Fair Debt Collections Practices Act requires that the collector communicate through the attorney and
not directly with your mother.
One other thing you might consider, if you
haven't already, is additional financial planning for your mother moving
Handle your credit with care!
See related: Stuck with spouse's debt in a community property state,
Protect elderly parents' credit cards from illegal use
Tanisha Warner is the communications manager for Money Management International, the largest nonprofit, full-service credit counseling agency in the United States. She manages educational content designed to teach consumers about personal finance topics. You can find more money management advice on Blogging for Change and MMI's Facebook page.
Credit Care answers a question about a debt or credit issue from a CreditCards.com reader each week.
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Published: July 9, 2012