Can my mother add me to a credit card and leave me with the debt?

8 answers | Last updated: Aug 21, 2014
Whyme? asked...

Is this true?

My co-worker told me she incurred bankruptcy due to a $12,000 debt incurred by her mother (just after her mother died), run up by her mother on the mother's credit cards. The reason? My friend said her mother somehow named her as an "AUTHORIZED REPRESENTATIVE" of the credit card -- unbeknownst to her daughter/my friend!! YIKES!!!

My concern: my DH and I recently "accidentally" learned my 80-year-old mother with dementia ADDED my name to her AmEx account and asked AmEx to send ME a credit card, under MY name, but with the AmEx account "under my mother's name." (Note this was done without telling me OR my 3 siblings who are overseeing her finances!!) I called AmEx 2 weeks ago, to CLOSE/END the account! Now, I am worried if I will get any "flak" for this and/or from any of the other several credit cards she is "living off of" due to insufficient income to live in her condo!!

There is no POA and/or guardianship of credit cards, checkbook, etc. Mom lives alone and due to this issue I have SEVERED my relationship with my 3 siblings and SIL!!! HOW can I contact her credit cards AND ensure (bottom line) that DH and I will NOT be held liable for any charges rung up at the time of her death??


Expert Answers

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.

The situations you and your co-worker describe should not be happening. Credit card companies are obligated to get the consent and signature of anyone who might be added to an account if he or she might become financially liable for any charges on it.

But since you've both described some apparent slippage in the system, you would be best served by being a bit proactive.

First of all, you did the right thing by acting quickly and alerting American Express about improperly adding you to your mother's account. But follow up with the additional step of asking representatives there to send you a letter verifying that the account has been closed and that you have no relation to the account. This might be an important documentation on the offchance that you would later need to prove that you did not authorize any transactions. A piece of paper works well as evidence; a phone call does not.

Then contact one of the three consumer reporting companies listed below and ask that a fraud alert be placed on your credit report. Such alerts are intended to prevent an identity thief"”which is what your mother became when she falsified the records"”from opening additional accounts in your name. You need only contact one company, which should then contact the other two on your behalf. These consumer credit companies, which may also have tips specifically tailored to protect your account, include:

--TransUnion: 800-680-7289;; Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834

--Equifax: 800-525-6285;; P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374, and

--Experian: 888-397-3742;; P.O. Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013.

As an additional step to protect the credit records of both you and your DH, contact the Federal Trade Commission, or FTC, at The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers stop and avoid them.

And finally, some advice that has nothing to do with finances or the law: You might reconsider severing your relationships with your siblings and SIL if that severing was based only on this issue. You say your siblings are "overseeing" your mother's finances, but the truth is that some people can be awful crafty when it comes to being deceptive about money matters"”and your mother may be one of them. It is entirely possible that your siblings were blameless and uninformed here.

Another reason to mend the fence: There is often strength in numbers. If the four of you can work together civilly, you are more likely to be able to convince your mother to set up a safe and sane system to avoid this harm in the future"”perhaps by establishing a power of attorney for finances or a guardianship or conservatorship to control and monitor your mother's finances.

Community Answers

Pricetag answered...

I was under the impression that the primary credit card holder is "only" responsible for the debt. If one receives a credit card with their name on it, even uses it, the primary holder is responsible. I called the credit card company and they told me my mother who was the primary is responsible not me in case of her death. Also with the credit agencies, even though my name is reported for the card, it shows my mother is the primary and doesn't affect my credit. Have I been given the wrong information?

Emilypinaud answered...

I would like to know the answer to Pricetag question also.

Mom2ejb answered...

The response from the expert didn't really answer the question. If some one is listed only as an authorized user can they be held financially responsible for the credt card debt?

Barbara kate repa answered...

Sorry that some readers did not find the help they needed in the first answer--and am hoping to clarify here.

Here is the law: Credit card companies are obligated to get the consent and signature of anyone who might be added to an account if he or she might become financially liable for any charges on it. On most accounts, that's the primary card holder. But depending on the credit card company's contract with the cardholder--which is often written in impossibly small print. Some contracts specify that anyone using a card becomes "jointly and severally liable" --legalese for being equally responsible for the debt.

Anyone concerned about even the possibility of incurring liability would be wise to take the steps above--checking directly with the company and then following up with a look at your credit ratings to be sure no errors or unwitting black marks have been introduced into your records. That can help your own peace of mind--and provide ready and invaluable evidence if a credit card company later questions your responsibility to pay.

Bobbi 1212 answered...

i'm very interested in knowing this answer - my mother also has dimentia

Pricetag answered...

I pulled up my credit report, and it showed under my mother's account with the Credit Card company, that the "responsibility" was Authorized Account. Whereby my other accounts on the report under "responsibility was "individual Account". I called the credit card company because Mom had them give me a card as well under her account, and they stated to me verbally that she was the primary card holder and her responsibility even if I charged something. I still don't like seeing the amount she owes on my credit report. I'm not sure yet, if I want to cancel my card because I'm always buying her something that she wants and needs. She always hides the credit card in her room and then can't remember where it is, so tells me to use mine. Hope this helps. Pricetag

Devilchaser1 answered...

A general rule is if you use a card you can be held resonsible for the debt. This would could be different if card issuer policies state different. Having used a card you may want someone to check on terms and conditions of the accout. A little knowledge now may save more grief later. hope this helpful.