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Are your parents' debts your responsibility?

Your parents may be carrying a hefty debt load. It may get to the stage where they're having trouble even meeting minimum payments. Although you may feel bad, you're probably wondering if you're in any way responsible for making those payments for them.

In short, the legal responsibility in British Columbia is not yours. However, there are some instances where this issue could get a little cloudy. When it gets dicey is when you might have signed for any debt incurred, even if the purchase wasn't for you and you didn't directly benefit from it.

Paying bills

If you pay the occasional bill for your parents, it doesn't mean you must pay future bills. If, on the other hand, your name is on the account, collectors may take it that you'll be paying from now on. To make it clear that's not the case, you might want to give your parents a check to have them deposit it into their account so they can pay a bill that way instead of paying it directly for them.

If you share an account

Joint account holders are often responsible for debts, and you will find your parents' creditors may clear any funds in them. They don't care whose money is whose. The same goes with a credit card account. If your name is on a card with your parents' names, you become just as responsible for paying off the card. It doesn't matter who made the purchases.

The choice to be a joint account holder with your parents is yours; however, most banks will give you authorization to write checks from the account without having to become one of the account holders. As for credit cards, you might want to look into getting a card with a low limit for your parents that will limit their spending.

If you're a guarantor

If you become a guarantor or responsible party of any kind of loan or lease on your parents' behalf, then you do become responsible for the debt. If you accept that kind of responsibility, chances are it could end up costing you a lot of money, especially if fees are ongoing, like for assisted living facilities.

To get a better handle on your legal responsibilities as far as parental debt goes, a lawyer may be able to answer any questions you have. It may be helpful to get the advice of a lawyer prior to making any decisions about signing any documents regarding your parents' debts.

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