By: Jeffrey Lapin
Collecting on debts of the deceased has become a very profitable area in the debt collections industry. Using tactics and practices created specifically to convince anguished family members to pay, some of these debt collectors will stop at nothing to get money even breaking the law. In almost all circumstances you are not personally liable for the debts of a deceased relative despite what you might be told by a debt collector. This post will not cover which debts may be owed by the deceased’s estate, which would be paid through the probate process. Rather, I will discuss your individual liability for the debts of a deceased spouse, parent, child or other relative and what you should do if contacted by a debt collector trying to collect a debt owed by them.
DEBT COLLECTION TACTICS
Historically, creditors have had the right to file or otherwise make a claim against a deceased person’s estate. Recently, however, these new types of debt collectors are trying hard to convince survivors to pay the debts of their loved ones. These are usually debts that the family members have no legal duty to pay. In others cases, the debt collectors are, in effect, trying to avoid the probate procedure and get survivors to pay them directly rather than risk the possibility that a probate court will not honor their claim.
Unscrupulous debt collectors will use a variety of tactics to try and get relatives to pay the debts of a deceased relative. These tactics were created specifically to convince grief-stricken relatives to pay even if the person communicating with the debt collector does have to pay anything on the debt. Some of these tactics include, but are not limited to: mailing sympathy cards, emotional appeals and even using grief counselors, in calls and mailings,. These calls or letters may start immediately or the debt collector may wait weeks, months, and even years after our loved ones have passed away.
GENERAL RULE- YOU DO NOT HAVE TO PAY
The general rule is that you are not liable for the debts of a deceased relative. There are a few exceptions to this rule that usually involve you having agreed or have been deemed to have “agreed,” by operation of law, to be responsible for the debt. For example, if you have co-signed for a debt on behalf of a relative you are likely still responsible for the debt. Spouses and parents may also be responsible for certain debts incurred by a deceased spouse or child. In addition, if you received money from an estate through the probate process that should have paid to a creditor, you may be liable, up to the amount you received, for that debt. Other money received by virtue of a death, such as life insurance proceeds, usually does not have to be paid to a debt collector or other entity for the debt of a deceased relative.
A personal representative (executor, administrator, or other person in charge of the estate in the probate process) is responsible for distributing the deceased assets according to the last will and testament of the deceased or through the law of intestacy (dying without a valid will). The personal representative has to notify creditors and use estate’s funds to pay legally valid debts owed by the deceased. If you are the personal representative of an estate, you are not personally responsible for the debts of the deceased.
IF YOU ARE CONTACTED BY A DEBT COLLECTOR
If you are contacted by a debt collector for a debt owed by a deceased relative, here are some suggestions you should follow:
- Do not agree to pay the debt under any circumstances unless you are actually responsible for it;
- Request the name, phone number and address of the company calling you;
- Request written validation of the debt;
- Notify the debt collector that the relative is deceased and to quit contacting you about it;
- Request that all further communication from the debt collector be in writing.
With regard to the last three (3) suggestions you should send a letter to the debt collector, by certified mail, regarding these items. By sending it certified mail you have proof that it was received by the debt collector.
ILLEGAL ACTIVITIES BY DEBT COLLECTORS
Under the Fair Debt Collections Practice Act (FDCPA) you have rights and debt collectors have duties when most debts are trying to be collected. If a debt collector violates your rights under the FDCPA or state law, the debt collector may owe you money for the violation. Here are some debt collection activities regarding the debts of a deceased relative that would likely violate the FDCPA:
- Trying to pressure you to pay debts of your relative that you do not owe;
- Implying that you have a moral obligation to pay the debt of a deceased relative;
- Claiming, especially near the time of your relative’s death, that the person who died would have wanted you to pay the debt;
- Saying negative things about you or the person who died;
- Contacting you at the funeral or wake or at another inappropriate time or place.
These are just a small few of the many possible FDCPA violations. The FDCPA protects people from abusive, harassing, false and misleading communications by debt collectors.
Debt collectors may use a variety of tactics to get you to pay a debt of a deceased relative. Even though dealing with these issues can be very emotional, do not cave into the debt collector and agree to pay. In most circumstances, you do not owe a debt collector money for the debts of a deceased relative. If a debt collector violates the law in attempting to collect a debt, the FDCPA allows people to sue the debt collector for these violations.
PRIOR POSTS ABOUT DEBT COLLECTION
- Consumers: 11 Ways To Protect Yourself From Scams
- Consumers: Beware Of Scams
- Protect Yourself Against Phantom Debt Collectors
ABOUT LAPIN LAW OFFICES
Lapin Law Offices represents Nebraskans harassed, abused, misled or provided false information by debt collectors. You can learn more about your rights by calling us at 402-421-8033 (anytime) or through our websites: Lapin Law Offices or StopBadCollectors.com. We offer a free consultation and do not charge an attorney fee unless we collect money for you.