How to deal with debt when someone has dementia

Advice about what you can do if a relative or friend who has dementia has built up debts.

Question:

‘My dad has dementia and he’s run up debts that he can’t pay off. What can we do?’

Answer:

Anyone can get into debt, but managing money can become especially difficult as a person’s dementia progresses.

They might buy things they don’t need because of memory problems or compulsive behaviour. They may also have extra bills – such as for care – and less money to pay them with.

Does the debt still count?

Generally, people with dementia are responsible for debts they’ve run up, just like anyone else. This is true even if they go on to lose the ability (their ‘mental capacity’) to manage their own money. 

If you can show that the person didn’t have this capacity when they got into debt – for example, at the time they paid for something – it might be possible to cancel what’s owed.

You’d need to show that the seller knew, or should have known, that they lacked this capacity.

This can be hard to prove, but it’s worth discussing with the person who’s owed. If they don’t seem reasonable, you could make a complaint or take legal advice. You could also discuss this with a debt adviser.

Managing existing debts

Specialist debt advisers can suggest ways to manage debt that you might not think of otherwise.

The government’s MoneyHelper service can help you find a free and confidential adviser.

Breathing Space, a scheme for people struggling with debt in England and Wales, may help by freezing interest and fees until a longer term solution is found. MoneyHelper or a debt adviser can provide more details about this and other options, including in Northern Ireland.

Stopping more debt 

Talk to your dad – he might welcome some help with his finances. You could suggest that he ask his bank to put limits on his spending.

He could set up a Lasting power of attorney to appoint someone to help him with his finances now or in the future, called an Enduring power of attorney in Northern Ireland.

If he doesn’t have mental capacity to do this, you or someone else may need to apply to become a deputy to look after his money on his behalf. In Northern Ireland this is called a controller.

If the bank believes your dad lacks capacity to manage his account, they may freeze it until his attorney, deputy or controller can take over. 

Further help

  • MoneyHelper can help you to find a free and confidential debt adviser.
  • Our Managing your money (1501) booklet has ideas and advice for people living with dementia. 
  • To find a solicitor, see the Law Society of Northern Ireland or the Law Society in England and Wales.
  • Could Sibstar help? It’s a highly secure debit card and app to help people with dementia manage everyday spending, developed with support from Alzheimer’s Society.
Legal and financial

The various financial and legal issues that someone with dementia and their carer may want to consider and looks at sources of help and support.

Read more

Dementia together magazine: Aug/Sept 21

Dementia together magazine is for all Alzheimer’s Society supporters and anyone affected by the condition.
Subscribe now
Dementia together magazine is for all Alzheimer’s Society supporters and anyone affected by the condition.
Subscribe now
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