Am I responsible for my father's debts if I have power of attorney?

Being empowered to act as another's agent in a power of attorney alone will not make you responsible for paying that person's debts out of your own pocket.
Gizmo asked...

I have a power of attorney for my dad. I got it at Staples and I wrote in financial, medical, housing decisions. My dad gets Medicaid and Medicare and was put into a skilled care facility. Now his landlord and the care facility want me to pay them because NYC somehow disrupted his benefits. He has no other assests. He gets a check for $724 per month and $100 in food stamps. Am I liable for his outstanding debts because of the power of attorney?


Expert Answer

Barbara Repa, a senior editor, is an attorney, a journalist specializing in aging issues, and the author of Your Rights in the Workplace (Nolo), now in its 10th edition.

If you haven't done it yet, your first order of business should be to check with the NYC authorities and unravel what went wrong with the disrupted benefits. Arm yourself with patience, perseverance, and politeness. Getting to the bottom of the mistake will likely require all of them.

It is hard to know whether you have been legally appointed his power of attorney -- not all stationery store documents will do the job. But your father's debts should remain his debts. In general, you will be personal liable for debts you officially incur on his behalf only if you:

  • agreed in advance to be personally responsible, such as by co-signing or guaranteeing a particular transaction
  • are liable for the debts because of another legal relationship that results in a duty of support, such as you claim your father as a dependent
  • negligently caused the debt, or
  • acted beyond your legal authority as guardian or conservator in incurring the debt.