DEAR ABBY: Your advice to “Poor Birth Mother in Georgia” on June 12 — “Because the college loan agreement with your daughter was verbal and wasn’t put in writing, you don’t have a legal means to force her to assume the loan payments” — was wrong!
Verbal agreements are enforced if they can be proven to be true. Even if the daughter didn’t promise to make the payments, she may be held liable for them because money provided for the benefit of another gives rise to an implied and enforceable obligation to repay it. If the statute of limitations has not run out, I think she’s got a pretty good case. Whether it’s economically feasible is another issue, as is the wisdom of getting into litigation with one’s daughter.
Check with your own attorney. You made a mistake that you should correct. If you are a lawyer, you should have known better; if you’re NOT a lawyer, you should avoid giving legal advice. — ATTORNEY IN PALM DESERT, CALIF.
DEAR PALM DESERT: You are not the only lawyer to say that. Attorneys nationwide wrote to point it out, and I apologize for that answer. Although I did consult an attorney who said my answer was correct, it appears we were both wrong. Read on:
DEAR ABBY: Under Georgia law, ORAL agreements are enforceable. That mother could bring a lawsuit against her daughter to repay the loan. A famous Georgia case involved Ted Turner, who was sued for $281 million based on an oral agreement. A Georgia court upheld the agreement, and Turner had to pay the $281 million. — SAN FRANCISCO ATTORNEY
DEAR ABBY: Although the agreement “Poor Birth Mother” had with her daughter was an oral one, there may be some documentation, albeit peripheral: email, notes, birthday cards, thank-you cards. Also, the college application and financial disclosure form may say “loan from mother” as anticipated expense payment. The writer should talk to an attorney in Georgia. — MARIETTA, GEORGIA, READER
DEAR ABBY: Just the THREAT of a lawsuit may bring the daughter around. Lawsuits, sad to say, have enormous blackmail value; the cost to defend them is so high that people settle. I’m a magna cum laude graduate and former officer of Harvard Law School, and for a few years of my misspent youth a professor at the Northwestern University School of Law. If I were licensed in Georgia, I’d represent her, probably for free (lawyers do such things). — ATTORNEY IN IRVING, TEXAS
DEAR ABBY: Tell the mother to consult her local bar association and ask if it has a pro bono (free) hotline or clinic to advise her. — TEXAS LAWYER
DEAR ABBY: Have her contact Georgia’s Division of Aging and speak to Adult Protective Services. Among the things it deals with is elder abuse, which includes physical, emotional and sexual abuse, neglect by a caregiver, self-neglect and financial exploitation. — READER IN GEORGIA
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