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I'm a long-distance caregiver for an elderly relative -- a distant cousin -- who has dementia. A few years before she started having problems, we added my name to her bank accounts so that if she were ever unable to handle her finances, I could take over seamlessly, and that's exactly what happened. Her bills are still in her name, but for the past year I've been signing the checks to pay them. There must've been bills she didn't pay before I took over, though, because in her mail I recently found a notice from a collections agency for a service she hasn't had for several years. I want to pay it, or at least call about it, but I'm worried about doing this because, as noted, my name is on her account and I don't want a collections agency deciding that, because my name is associated with hers on her checking account, I'm responsible for her debts and beginning to harass me. The bill I'm talking about isn't very big and paying it isn't a big deal, but there may be larger unpaid bills I don't know about, and I don't want anyone going after my personal funds. (I don't think they'd win if they tried, but it would certainly be a hassle.) Is this going to be a problem because my name is on her account? There has been zero co-mingling of funds -- the money in the account is 100 percent hers, and I use it only to pay her bills. I don't use any of my own funds to pay her bills, and I keep extremely good records of her expenses. If anyone has experience with this I'd appreciate hearing about it!

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The first step (and the cheapest) might be to check with the bank. ‘My name is on the account’ might mean that you are just listed as ‘able to sign’, in which case you ought to have absolutely no liability. However it might mean that the account was transferred into joint names ie joint ownership, which could be a bit trickier. Potentially the creditor has a right to be paid out of the account, and it might be worth getting legal advice about whether you have any responsibility for this. Simply not replying to the creditor at this point seems like a good way to start, but if it’s a joint account you might like to know. If the account funds will become part of her estate, the questions might arise then.
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Reply to MargaretMcKen
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LauraJMT Mar 2, 2019
Thanks. That's a very good idea. (I have the feeling the account is now joint ownership.) The bill in question is only $40 and I paid it today from her account. I don't mind paying money that she owes from her funds (she'd do it herself, if she could handle her own finances). However, I would very much mind if her creditors somehow associated my name with her debts and started harassing me.
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Just because your name is on the bank account doesn't mean ur responsible for her bills. If not a lot of money, pay it. Its her address on the check, correct? Like said, do not call the creditors.
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Reply to JoAnn29
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No. Because the bills are in her name only. You are not responsible for her debts.
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Reply to mmcmahon12000
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I went through this with my dad when he was in a nursing home. In my experience, if your name isn't on any of the accounts you can't be held liable for them although collection agencies will try to make you think you are.

In trying to do the right thing, I called my dad's creditors to let them know he was on hospice and once his creditors had my phone number they called me relentlessly. Someone suggested to me that I tell them they are NOT to call me as I have nothing to do with his accounts as my name was not on any of them. They were vultures circling, waiting for my dad to die, hoping there was an "estate" (my dad was on Medicaid in a nursing home). So I told each one when they called next to stop calling me, stop calling my phone number. The calls finally stopped.

When my dad died I was buried in written communication demanding payment for this bill or that bill and the communications were always addressed to "The Estate of...." I don't even know how they found out my dad died. I sent a letter to each stating that there was no estate, that my dad died penniless, on Medicare, in a nursing home. Eventually the communication from the creditors stopped too.

Just don't call them. That was my mistake. Once they had my phone number I had to get really mean with them and it was very unpleasant.
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Reply to Eyerishlass
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LauraJMT Mar 2, 2019
Thank you! This is really helpful!
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Collections agencies can use a lot of intimidation tactics even if they're on legal shaky ground. Agree with the poster that said you should check with a lawyer to learn what your legal status is on all this; then if you do receive worrisome communications, you'll know exactly where you stand already.
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Reply to Kittybee
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Do you have any reason to think this might not be an isolated loose end?

For example, are there services you might normally have expected an average person to use that haven't so far cropped up?

Unless there are areas you haven't yet had a chance to look into, or there are gaps you've been wondering about, or you're not certain that the claim is valid, anything like that, I should just pay the bill as demanded. They're not going to get your personal details from your signature alone, made on behalf of the account holder.
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Reply to Countrymouse
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Accounts in your name only can not be touched by any of her creditors. As far as the joint accounts, my advice would be to meet with a lawyer.
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