According to the Mayo Clinic, Alzheimer's disease is a "progressive disease that destroys memory and other important mental functions." As a common cause of dementia, it results in the loss of both social skills and intellectual ability. Despite this reality, Alzheimer's patients with credit card debt remain responsible for these obligations, unless it can be proven the debt was incurred after the onset of the disease.
Liability Depends on Dates of Debt
If a person with credit card debt is diagnosed with Alzheimer's, she will likely remain on the hook for the debts incurred if they were obtained prior to the diagnosis. However, if a credit card account was opened or charges made after the diagnosis, it may be possible to have this debt waived by the credit card company.
Proving Lack of Competence
To challenge a credit card account or charges with a credit card company, you will need to obtain a letter from the patient's physician confirming the onset of Alzheimer's and diagnosis date. If the symptoms were noticed before the official diagnosis, the doctor can include this information in the letter as well. The credit card company will likely close the account or credit affected charges once it receives this documentation. If the credit card company is not cooperative despite having this documentation, an attorney may need to be brought in to assist with the matter. If the Alzheimer's patient has credit card insurance, the doctor's note may be submitted as proof of disability, after which the insurance will typically cover the affected charges. Depending on the circumstances, bankruptcy may also be an option.
Failing to Pay Debts
If the debts are not eligible for waiver because the Alzheimer's patient was competent when the accounts were opened or charges made, the patient remains legally responsible for them. However, financial resources may be low and payment of these debts may not be possible. If the debts go unpaid, the patient's creditors may file a lawsuit and get a judgment against the patient. If this happens, her bank accounts can be levied in an attempt to collect payment, in addition to other collection methods. However, unless the patient has significant assets, it is unlikely creditors will go to such extremes to recoup payment. In this circumstance, it may be helpful to seek the guidance of an attorney to learn about the options available.
Helping With Finances
To protect the financial assets of an Alzheimer's patient, concerned family, friends or other persons may wish to obtain a durable power of attorney for finances. This would allow the appointed person to make certain financial decisions on the patient's behalf. If the Alzheimer's disease has become particularly advanced, a conservatorship may be necessary. After establishing to a court's satisfaction that the Alzheimer's patient is no longer able to manage her own affairs, a guardian or conservator is appointed. This person is given the legal authority to take financial action on the patient's behalf, including closing credit card accounts and paying credit card bills from the patient's checking account.
- Aging Care: Are People With Alzheimer's Responsible for Credit Card Debt?
- Orange County Register: Credit Advice - Help for Someone With Alzheimer's
- Credit Cards: Steps to Protect Finances of Those With Alzheimer's
- Mayo Clinic: Alzheimer's Disease, Definition
- National Institute on Aging: Alzheimer's Disease and Managing Finances
Based on the West Coast, Mary Jane Freeman has been writing professionally since 1994, specializing in the topics of business and law. Freeman's work has appeared in a variety of publications, including LegalZoom, Essence, Reuters and Chicago Sun-Times. Freeman holds a Master of Science in public policy and management and Juris Doctor. Freeman is self-employed and works as a policy analyst and legal consultant.