What is my mother's legal obligation to pay donation pledges she has given over the phone?

5 answers | Last updated: Dec 05, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

Obscure and, in my mind, dubious charities are constantly calling my mother getting her to donate ten or fifteen dollars and then pester her for the payments. Because she has Alzheimer's she doesn't remember the details of her pledges. Is she legally obligated to fulfill the pledges? She is on the Do Not Call list for businesses, but as you know, that does not include charities.

Expert Answers

Barbara Repa, a Caring.com 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.

An annoying legal loophole--that one about charities. But the theory was that philanthropists should continue to be philanthropic, which is usually a good thing.

Your instincts were right about the potential legal ramifications of pledging. A pledge may be considered a legal contract, although state laws differ as to whether charitable pledges are actually enforceable. Since your mother has Alzheimer's, however, she would likely be regarded as lacking the capacity to enter a legally binding contract. And in deciding whether to actually go after pledge promises, charities are encouraged to consider:

  • The overall impact of the gift on the organization
  • Whether the pledge came from a longtime donor
  • How the nonprofit's board would likely react, and
  • How the action might look to the public.

Applying these guidelines, no charity is likely to go after your mom for her relatively small pledge promises. But unfortunately, that doesn't mean an end to the hectoring calls by the volunteers or staff members trained to be dogged about collecting them.

While charities are exempt from state and federal Do Not Call list provisions, every charity must maintain its own such list--and is not supposed to call potential contributors who ask not to be called again. There is leakage in reality, but if you are present when such calls come in, you can make the request. You might also write down a brief statement for your mother to make to such callers and encourage her to keep it near the phone if that is feasible for her.

Community Answers

Btutor answered...

My mother was forever the giver to any "charity" that called.  When I took over paying her bills a few years ago I found dozens of 10 and 20 dollar checks to every type of charity you could think of.  When I started getting the "follow up" calls I would simply ask them to mail me proof that she had made a pledge and more specifically what date the pledge was made.  I explained that she suffers from Alzheimer's and that I will honor the pledge if they provide the proof.  I haven't had one offer of proof and it eventually gets rid of the beggars.

A fellow caregiver answered...

Inform the charities about your mother's condition and have her name removed from their list. That is what I did.

Lindasd answered...

I put a special callerid/block machine (Person-to-Person) on my mom's phone. It allows any calls not keyed into the database to go directly to the answering machine and not ring the phone. This completely stopped this situation. Of course I have control over my mom's phone and the database machine holding the allowed numbers that do ring to the house.

Before this was in place, I would call the organizations but as we all know there are some that take advantage of the situation and kept calling.

Mmark answered...

Red Flag!
It is time to take control of the finances otherwise you are risking financial disaster.

I never found a way to block these sorts of solitations, mail, front door, or phone. Mom sent out thousands of dollars worth of checks bought all sorts of things, home alarm system with a 42 month contract auto deduct ect.

It has been 9 months since I took control forwarded all mail to my house, moved them to assisted care (changed their phone number) and I still get a mail box full of solicitations--every day. It does not stop-at least so far.

Make a comprehensive plan, not a peicemeal plan to handle your mom's finances totally she will most likely need your assistance sooner than you think and it will not get better.