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Am I Responsible for My Parent's Debt if I Have Power of Attorney?

George Simons | October 19, 2022

Summary: Did your parents manage to run up a great deal of debt? Find out if you're responsible for your parent's debt if you have power of attorney.

A power of attorney grants you the responsibility to make important decisions on behalf of your parents if they're incapacitated or can no longer manage their affairs. So if you're wondering whether you're responsible for your parent's debt because you have power of attorney, this article explains everything you need to know.

But first things first, lets first look at the various responsibilities of power of attorney. Some of your power of attorney responsibilities include:

  • acting in good faith for the principal's (your parent) benefit;
  • managing your parent's real estate, investments, and bank accounts;
  • keeping track of all transactions involving your parent's property;
  • determining if they have a will and contents of the will;
  • using your parent's assets to support their needs;
  • consulting with other family members regarding important decisions concerning your parents.

If you have a power of attorney and breach any of your duties, you may be liable for the consequential damages.

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Are you responsible for your parents debt?

If you're the agent of your parent's power of attorney, you're not responsible for their debt. However, if they become incapacitated, you can use their assets to pay off their debt and not use your own money.

In the unfortunate event that your parent passes away, the existing power of attorney becomes invalid. In such a situation, the administrator or person in charge of your parent's financial assets will be responsible for paying off your parent's debts.

Note that even if you're not responsible for your parent's debt, your inheritance might be affected if some of their assets are used to pay off the debts. This is because you can only receive your inheritance after assets in your parent's estate have been used to clear their unpaid debts.

There are also a few exceptions to becoming responsible for your parent's debt. These include:

  • You were a co-signer of a loan your parents took. If you cosigned a loan or jointly took a loan with your parents, you'll be responsible for the outstanding balance. Even when your parents die, you'll still be responsible for the debt. The debt will be considered valid and transferred to your name.
  • You have a joint account with your parent. Suppose you opened an account with your parents and used it to secure a loan. In that case, the debt will still be valid even if your parent becomes incapacitated or dies.
  • You're the administrator of your parent's estate. If your parents named you as their estate administrator on their will and they die without paying their debt, you'll be responsible for their debts. This includes medical expenses, back taxes, funds due to employees, funeral bills, and so on. However, if the estate can't cover your parent's debts, you'll not be held responsible for any of their debt.
  • Your parent's assets are transferred to you shortly before they die. If your parents have many debts under their name and transfer their assets to you before they die to avoid paying the debts, you may be responsible for their debts even if their assets are in your name. A court can invalidate the transfer of your parent's assets to you if there's valid proof that your parent made the transfer with the intent to avoid paying their creditors.
  • You mismanaged your parent's estate. Even though you can't inherit your parent's debts, you'll be responsible for paying their outstanding debt if you mismanage their estate. If left in charge of your parent's estate, it's upon you to decide how to pay your parent's creditors. Mismanaging estate assets or paying off the wrong debts can make you liable for your parent's debt.

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What should you do if debt collectors contact you?

If your parent dies and you didn't co-sign for their debt, debt collectors are prohibited by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) from contacting you about the debt. The FDCPA is the main federal regulation that governs the various debt collection practices in the US.

You can send them a cease-and-desist letter requesting that they stop contacting you if they constantly harass you for your deceased parent's debt. Alternatively, if they keep harassing you and you feel they're violating the FDCPA, you can file a lawsuit against them.

Suppose your parent dies and has funds in their IRA or 401k account, and you're the designated beneficiary. In that case, the funds will be passed directly to you and won't be used to pay off their outstanding debt.

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