Am I liable for my mother's debt?

As a general rule, children are not liable for the debts their parents incur. Thus, in most cases, creditors cannot legally pursue you for payment of accounts your mother defaulted on--even if she cannot afford to pay. If you and your mother share accounts and financial obligations, however, creditors can sometimes hold you responsible for paying off your mother's debts.

Co-signed Debts

If you cosigned a loan for your mother and your mother stops making payments on the account, the lender will come to you demanding payment. Individuals with poor credit or who lack sufficient income to qualify for loans or lines of credit can often qualify using a co-signer. The downside to this agreement is that if the primary account holder does not meet the payment obligations the lender requires, the co-signer holds full legal responsibility for paying off the debt.

Credit Card Accounts

Sharing a joint credit card account with your mother allows both of you to use the account without the prior permission of the other. When the bill arrives, you both also share legal responsibility for making the payments. If your mother cannot or will not pay her portion of the bill, you are legally responsible for paying off the full credit card balance regardless of whether you actually made any of the purchases. The same holds true if your mother is an authorised user on your credit card account. As an authorised user, she holds the right to make charges to the account without being legally responsible for making the payments. You must, therefore, pay off any debt your mother incurs as an authorised user. If you are the authorised user on her account, however, you are not legally responsible for the debt that either of you incurs--she is.

Joint Bank Accounts

Sharing a joint bank account with your mother provides you both with the convenience of being able to transfer money quickly without paying a fee or waiting for funds to arrive from point A to point B. If you mother's bank receives an order from a creditor directing it to garnish her bank accounts, however, the bank will freeze and garnish all accounts in your mother's name, including the one that you share. So, even if you are not legally liable for your mother's debt, the creditor can seize your money as compensation if you share an account. Joint bank account garnishment laws and exemptions vary by state.

Collection Accounts

Debt collectors often employ unethical tactics when collecting debts, including contacting family members and incorrectly informing them that they are responsible for paying off the debt. Unless you shared the original debt with your mother, you are not responsible for any debt she owes to a collection agency. The practice of collecting debt from family members occurs most frequently when the original debtor dies. If your mother passes away, you do not inherit her debts and you are not responsible for paying them.

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About the Author

Ciele Edwards holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and has been a consumer advocate and credit specialist for more than 10 years. She currently works in the real-estate industry as a consumer credit and debt specialist. Edwards has experience working with collections, liens, judgments, bankruptcies, loans and credit law.

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