Based on a verbal agreement, can someone be forced to pay a debt if sued?

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Based on a verbal agreement, can someone be forced to pay a debt if sued?

I allowed my sister to turn a utility service for her home in my name several years ago. From day 1 she said she would pay the bill yet she still hasn’t given me or the utility company any money towards the debt. I did live with her for a short time but not during the entire billing cycle and my name was never on the lease for that address where the bill was created.

Asked on June 13, 2012 under Bankruptcy Law, Georgia

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

As a general matter, an oral (that's the better term than "verbal") agreement to pay is enforceable, subject to the potentially difficulty of proving the existence and the terms of the agreement if the other party to the agreement disputes your version.

However, under GA law, a promise must be in writing to be enforceable if it is a promise "to answer for the debt, default, or miscarriage of another" (this is commonly called the "statute of frauds")--that could pose problems for you, since if I understand your question correctly, the utilities are in your name--hence they are your debt--but your sister promised to be responsible for them. While it would be worthwhile taking legal action to enforce her obligation to you--especially by suing in small claims court, where filing fees are  low and you can act as your own attorney--she may be able to raise the statute of frauds as a defense to her oral promise to pay your debt.


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