Am I responsible for my parent's debt?

3 answers | Last updated: Dec 07, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

My 72-year-old father has Alzheimer's. I've recently discovered that he's behind on his bills and has run up several thousand dollars of debt on his credit cards. He has few assets in his name. Am I responsible for his debt?

Expert Answers

Barbara Steinberg is the CEO and founder of BLS Eldercare Financial Solutions, which specializes in helping families pay for long-term care for their loved ones. A registered financial gerontologist, she speaks regularly on the topic of paying for long-term care and is a financial expert for

In a word: No.

You're only responsible for your parent's debt if your name is on the account in question as a joint account holder, not just as an authorized user of the account. If you haven't already co-signed any accounts with him, make sure you don't.

Even if you hold a power of attorney appointing you as your father's designated decision-maker, you're still not responsible for his debts unless you're found to have illegally commingled money from his accounts and yours.

The bottom line is that your father's debt isn't technically your problem, but there are steps you can take to help him resolve his situation without ruining your own credit or taking on his debt yourself.

If he owns his own home and doesn't have a large mortgage, he may be a good candidate for a reverse mortgage, which can eliminate his monthly payment and give him some breathing room to pay off debts and deal with other expenses.

If his debts are unmanageable and a reverse mortgage isn't an option -- if he's already living in a nursing home or other managed care facility, for example -- it may be time to consider filing for bankruptcy protection. Bankruptcy may be particularly appropriate if there's nothing left in the estate to protect and you want to keep creditors from hounding your father day and night.

Community Answers

A fellow caregiver answered...
I have recently admitted my father into a skilled nursing facility. After his rehabilitation period has ended he has decided that he will become a permanent resident. The nursing home has stated that they can send a letter to all of his creditors asking for "debt forgiveness" since he has no assests. This I am told is the standard method that most nursing homes use for their new residents, in Indiana and that it works very well. I think that any creditor should be able to understand the sue an elderly person when they have been permanently admitted into a nursing, using Medicare and or Medicaid as a means to pay their way should be a good indicator that there are no funds with which to take care of that person's bills. Hope this helps.

Migsam answered...

Before filing for Bankruptcy or trying Reverse Mortgages, you should look into a Settlement with the Credit Card companies. They could work out with you and reduce the debt to a lesser amount or work out a reasonable payment plan.