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My mother is 93 and doing remarkably well. As we all know, however, the weather can change at any moment, and things generally do not improve after 93. Years ago, at her request, we opened a checking account in both our names, so that in the event of emergency or incapacity, I could handle her bills. The money in the account is entirely hers; I have never made a deposit, withdrawn anything, or even written a check.


(She has other accounts and assets, but I am not named as a joint holder on any of the others.)


I know about durable POA, etc.; that is not the question I'm asking, and she's anxious about making any changes to her accounts.


I have a worry of my own, however, so here's my question: should Mom someday need care, does having my name on this checking account open me to liability or financial responsibility for her elder care costs (home care, independent or assisted living, nursing home) if she runs out of money?

Mom had me on her checking account. She couldn’t drive. I did all of her shopping. She had Parkinson’s disease and had terrible tremors so I wrote her checks. She never liked ATM cards, even though I told her they are convenient to use. She only had one credit card. She was extremely frugal as most people who survived the depression era were. She never accumulated debt. Anything that she charged she paid off in full on the very next bill.

The only debt that I can ever remember mom telling me about was when we were children and she used the ‘lay away’ program at the store during the Christmas season for shopping for gifts. By the time Christmas rolled around and gifts were handed out, all of the money owed was paid.

I was mom’s medical POA. When she did rehab at the nursing home the social worker held a meeting and it was decided that mom should participate a few days longer. Those days were not going to be paid for by Medicare. The bill was sent to me in my name, not my mom’s name. I immediately called the nursing home and said that my mom was the patient, not me and to please remove my name as the responsible party. They sent a new bill in my mom’s name. I used her checking account to pay the bill. So, in my case, having my name on the checking account didn’t matter. The woman in billing at the nursing home told me that I was not responsible for my mom’s bills.
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Reply to NeedHelpWithMom
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Fitzgerald Jun 10, 2021
Thank you for sharing your experience, and for this info
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My name is on my moms checking and savings accounts. No problem for twenty years since I have been caring for her.
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Reply to earlybird
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No, you are not responsible for Moms bills once the money runs out.

But if you don't have POA you should have her assign you. Why, because of the accounts your name is not on. I was on Mom's checking account. When she became incompetent, as POA I was able to get a printout of all her accts and then transfer the money to her checking to pay for her AL. Its a great tool.

Hopefully Mom is not stubborn but the need for a POA and a Will are important. Otherwise, there is no one to carry out or make her wishes known. The State may step in and make decisions for her. So you need to know where the money is and how much. If Mom needs to be placed in an AL or LTC you need to know what her assets are. Because when the money starts to run out, you need to make decisions. Medicaid would be the main one. In my state, you have 90 days to apply, provide info needed and get the person placed. You want this to happen so when the money runs out, Medicaid is there to pay the next month.

For my Mom, I applied in April, placed her May 1st, private paying May and June. June I confirmed with Medicaid I had provided all info needed and spent her down, Medicaid stated July 1st.
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Fitzgerald Jun 10, 2021
Thank you for this helpful advice
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Talk to a lawyer for the actual answer--I know my mom has my YB as a cosigner on her checking acct, and to the best of my knowledge, he is just that, a cosigner, not responsible for her bills, just an overseer of her spending and any check over $500 must be cosigned by him. It was something that daddy set up for her before he died b/c she was in the habit of giving OB as much money as she could sneak out of their accts.

It's also convenient for when mom passes and you have to pay for EOL expenses. As long as everything is on the up and up, I doubt you have much, if anything to worry about.

Still, I spend a half hour with an elder care atty and take copious notes.
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Fitzgerald Jun 10, 2021
Thank you so much for this helpful advice
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Fitz, I was told that I was responsible for the account. Meaning that if my dad pulled anything funny and created an overdraft in the account, I would be responsible for the overdraft.

A checking account is entirely separate from any bills. You can only be held accountable for her bills if you sign as responsible party.

I would check with the Medicaid for your state about being on the account and that interfering with eligibility, if needed. I think that you would be okay as long as you have never commingled funds or used the account.

I don't think that you need to worry about changing anything.
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Reply to Isthisrealyreal
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Your having Durable POA alone was enough to access her money to pay her bills. There was no need to create a joint account.

At this point, I would hope that you know where her will is and who executes it. If you are an only child, then I would leave the joint account alone, but if you have siblings or the will says various people get various amount of money, then it may be a good idea to take your name off of that account so that no one will think that you may have done something that you have not done.

In other words, don't change the other accounts for there is not a need to with you having the Durable POA.
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Reply to NoTryDoYoda
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It is soooo much easier, safer, more certain, and without question if you are POA on account ONLY and if you sign all checks with your Mom's name, followed by your own name as POA. I was POA and Trustee of Trust for my brother. I did not mix any of our assets. His accounts remained his own accounts, with me acting on them as Trustee in the case of the Trust checking account, and as POA on the regular checking account. All bills came to his name, but c/o my name and to my address and I paid all bills. It was so much easier to have a file box with folders for each entity, phone, home bills, medical bills and etc. No one ever investigated a thing as there was nothing TO investigate or question. He had one small spending account that was all his, with me as POD. That is the route I would go. I had the guidance of the attorney we went to for the POA papers when my brother was first diagnosed with probable early Lewy's Dementia.
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Reply to AlvaDeer
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No, having joint checking doesn't obligate you on bills. However, if she has other accounts that will need to be used to fund the checking, you need to get a POA to access those funds to transfer into her checking. If there is a trust account then you also need to make sure you know who the successor trustee is... and at the appropriate time, have her resign and make you trustee. OR (I wish I had known this), make you joint trustee. (joint trustee is better because then your mom can still change the trust if she wants to).
Specific to cash and investments: Most institutions have their own POA form so you could probably do this account by account and just use their form for the POA on a specific account. However an overarching durable POA (by an attorney) would be necessary for you to sell a house or a car for example.
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Reply to marydys
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The bank account is one thing. Bills she owes are totally separate issue. Your name on the account could effect you, however, if you were to need Medicaid. Your access to the account would be counted the same as if you owned all the money in the account...because...basically you do. At any given time you have the right to take every cent out of that account if you decided to do so - Medicaid would call it yours if you applied. Would call it hers if she applied.
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BurntCaregiver Jun 13, 2021
my2cents,

I have had a joint account with my mother for years and was also on Medicaid. It did not interfere at all.
At the time I showed proof of zero income and explained to the caseworker that I was only on her account because she's elderly and it's not my money. They were fine with it.
I was still on Medicaid when my POA for my father went into effect. I had to change all of his accounts and open new ones because his then girlfriend was ripping him off. In order to do this my social security number had to be used to transfer into the new accounts. This didn't interfere with my Medicaid either because it wasn't my money.
Fitzgerald shouldn't have any problems with Medicaid should she need it.
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I accounted for every penny of income and expenditure was for her when dealing with court fiducery/guardianship/conservatorship with no problem. Her account was audited twice by a guardian ad liter with no problem. With managing the account for many years, I set up the bills as name c/o my name
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