Debt Collection Informative - Who Is Responsible For Paying Debts Of A Deceased Relative?

Review by D. on 2009-08-04
Paying the Debts of a Deceased Relative: Who Is Responsible?

After a relative dies, the last thing grieving family members may expect are calls from debt collectors asking them to pay their loved one’s outstanding debts. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency, a surviving relative usually has no legal obligation to pay the debts of a family member who has died. In fact, the rights of surviving relatives are covered by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), which prohibits debt collectors from using abusive, unfair, or deceptive practices to collect from you.

Under the FDCPA, which is enforced by the FTC, a debt collector is someone who regularly collects debts owed to others. This includes collection agencies, lawyers who collect debts on a regular basis, and companies that buy delinquent debts and then try to collect them.

Here’s what the law has to say about who has responsibility for a dead relative’s debts.

Q: Who is responsible for paying the debts of a relative who has died?
A: Generally, someone’s estate is responsible for paying their debts. But if there isn’t enough in the estate to cover the debts, they typically go unpaid.

Q: Am I legally obligated to pay the debts of a deceased relative?
A: You usually don’t have a legal obligation to pay the debts of a deceased relative who was not your spouse. Even a spouse’s obligation to pay may be limited under state probate law. To determine whether you’re legally obligated to pay, talk to an attorney who is knowledgeable about this area of the law.

Q: What should I do if a debt collector contacts me about a debt of a relative who has died?
A: Give the debt collector the contact information of the decedent’s personal representative. That’s the person responsible for settling their affairs, including paying any outstanding debts from the estate. If there is a will, the personal representative is known as the executor; if there is no will, the personal representative is known as the administrator.
Don’t give any of your personal information, like your Social Security number, birth date, or financial account numbers to anyone unless you know who you’re dealing with. Some con artists may check obituaries and other legal notices, and then contact relatives of a deceased posing as debt collectors. These scam artists can use your personal information to help them commit identity theft or other types of fraud.

Q: Do I have to speak with a debt collector who contacts me about the debts of a deceased relative?
A: No. But if you’re a decedent’s personal representative, or otherwise legally obligated to pay the debt, you may want to talk with the debt collector to see if you can resolve the matter.

Q: Can I stop a debt collector from contacting me about the debts of a deceased relative?
A: Yes. If you decide that you don’t want a debt collector to contact you again, write a letter to the collector saying so. Then, make a copy of your letter, send the original by certified mail, and pay for a “return receipt” so you will be able to document what the collector received and when. Once the collector receives your letter, they may not contact you again, with two exceptions: a collector can contact you to tell you there will be no further contact and to let you know that they or the creditor plan to take a specific action, like filing a lawsuit. Remember that even though the collector is prohibited from contacting you again, they still may sue the estate of your relative or the legally responsible person to collect the debt.

Q: Can debt collectors tell anyone else about my dead relative’s debt?
A: Other than to get the personal representative’s location, a debt collector generally is not allowed to disclose your relative’s debt to anyone other than the deceased’s spouse, parent (if your relative is a minor child), or guardian.

For Complaints and More Information
Report any problems you have with a debt collector to your state Attorney General’s office (www.naag.org) and the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov). Many states have their own debt collection laws that are different from the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Your Attorney General’s office can help you determine your rights under your state’s law.

For more information about debt collection and the additional rights provided under the FDCPA, see Debt Collection FAQs: A Guide for Consumers at ftc.gov/credit.

For information on other credit-related issues, visit www.ftc.gov/credit and www.MyMoney.gov, the U.S. government’s portal to financial education.

The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint or to get free information on consumer issues, visit ftc.gov or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. The FTC enters consumer complaints into the Consumer Sentinel Network, a secure online database and investigative tool used by hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.

June 2009
Comments:41 Replies - Latest reply on 2009-09-25
Posted by D. on 2009-08-04:
I wanted to post this information because these questions have been asked many times and finally a clear explanation of the answers by the FTC have been published.
Posted by Soaring Consumer on 2009-08-04:
Voted helpful. This information is quite useful.
Posted by moneybags on 2009-08-04:
Great Post!
Posted by kisa64 on 2009-08-04:
Excellent and very helpful post!
Posted by MRM on 2009-08-04:
Thank you for sharing this valuable tip with your loyal readers.
Posted by Anonymous on 2009-08-04:
Nice, DB. (VH)
Posted by Principissa on 2009-08-04:
Wish we knew this when my grandparents passed away. Very helpful information, thank you for posting this.
Posted by Nohandle on 2009-08-04:
Quite interesting. Some individuals might be surprised that on occasion a surviving family member is unaware there is a particular debt until a collection agency calls. Some con artists out there, of course, but if you have ever settled an Estate know it's not as simple as many might think. Good to be prepared and if you receive these calls know what resources you have.
Posted by tnchuck100 on 2009-08-04:
Some of these insurance ads on TV lead the public to believe that the need the insurance so your loved ones won't be stuck with your "credit card debt".

A perfect set up for the scam artists to play off of.
Posted by Eloise on 2009-08-04:
Thanks DB!
Posted by D. on 2009-08-04:
It's a scare tactic Chuckie...I've seen those commercials as well.

Thanks for all the "Helpful Votes"...I left for five minutes after posting this and came back and it went green already!
Posted by Anonymous on 2009-08-04:
(vh), Miss Basher.
Posted by Anonymous on 2009-08-04:
Great Post! I still get calls from debt collectors trying to collect money that my father supposedly owed. All the debts referred to were incurred within the last 6 years. My father passed away in 1994. The collectors want me to send a copy of the death certificate. When I tell them to send a pre-paid envelope they always hang up.
Posted by tnchuck100 on 2009-08-04:
Prepaid enveloped?? -- I love it!
Posted by goduke on 2009-08-04:
Awesome info. Thanks for putting it out there.
Posted by D. on 2009-08-04:
I've never had any of my reviews called, "Awespome" before...but, thank you!
Posted by BokiBean on 2009-08-04:
I think people dealing with a death in the family would find this information invaluable. As always, great stuff, thanks DB!
Posted by ejack053824 on 2009-08-04:
When my grandmother passed away I had a couple debt collectors call about her. I simply told them she had passed and there was no estate. The douchenozzle on the other end tried to collect from me but didn't like my response when I told him to eat shyt and die.
Posted by MSCANTBEWRONG on 2009-08-04:
you have such a way with words ejack...LOL
Posted by Anonymous on 2009-08-04:
When my husband's father died we just sent them a copy of the death certificate. Then they left us alone.
Posted by Principissa on 2009-08-04:
I seriously wish I had this information available to us when my grandparents died. It would have saved us so much grief and headaches! Sometimes just simply sending the death certificate just doesn't work. Some of those collectors DISCOVER were just heartless and cruel. There was nothing left in the estate to pay them, and they just wanted to get blood from this turnip. It took 3 years and a ton of money in legal fees to get them to understand that they weren't getting paid.
Posted by madconsumer on 2009-08-04:
when my mother passed away, it was easy to be done with her debits. a death certificate goes a long ways.

it would be helpful to have the link this info comes from. i am sure many would enjoy reading the entire ftc regulations.
Posted by jktshff1 on 2009-08-04:
when my father passed away years ago (mother long gone). I was executor. Got a lot of calls and mail. Told them he left nothing (true) and got VERY rude if they called again. Mailings, wrote not at this address, dead unable to contact, go away. Every once in a while I get a call or letter, I really let them have it.
Posted by Principissa on 2009-08-04:
I was upset because we didn't even have time to grieve before the vultures started calling for their money. I'm talking within weeks of their passing the calls started. What a heartless thing to do to grieving families.
Posted by D. on 2009-08-04:
Mad, it would have been helpful if you posted the link where you got your information that in some states, medical bills are not collectible....but you refused to, which can only mean you have no clue what you're talking about...however, being that I can always back up what I post, here is the link, and you will see I posted it in it's entirety:


Posted by BokiBean on 2009-08-04:
Best Answer DB!
Posted by Anonymous on 2009-08-04:
DB, as someone who has worked as a collection supervisor or manager for over 12 of the 18 years you are someone I would KILL to have on my collection or skip trace team.

You info is always solid and accurate, never misleading.
Posted by D. on 2009-08-04:
Thank you so much!
Posted by Principissa on 2009-08-04:
DB you make me feel so freaking old. I'm 29! I'm going to go pout now. :(
Posted by Anonymous on 2009-08-04:
Nope, not bad at all. Just as good, if not better, than many of my seasoned collectors.
Posted by D. on 2009-08-04:
It's ok Princi....I had to edit my response when I realized Raven was talking about HER 12 of 18 years and not mine...after all, that would make me a collector at age 10...LOL!
Posted by Anonymous on 2009-08-04:
NO, I was talking about me, LOL. I began collecting at the age of 23. was a collection supervisor at 26 and have since been a collections or customer service supervisor/manager (mostly collections, I like it better) in both first and third party call centers.
Posted by D. on 2009-08-04:
I loved, loved, LOVED my Quality Assurance Supervisor position...I got to train everyone in FDCPA and State laws, and got to sit there and monitor the collectors on the phones and record their calls...so, basically, I got paid to watch the collectors work...it doesn't get much better than that! LOL! I was considered NCO's "Ice Princess"...I was the person people loved to hate. Like they said, they loved me but hated my position....
Posted by Principissa on 2009-08-04:
No catch for the brownies. They just came out really freaking good and everyone should try them! I swear it's like eating a chewy, fudgy, chocolatey piece of the best thing you've ever tasted with a few crunchy walnuts in it.
Posted by Anonymous on 2009-08-04:
Exactly, DB. QA must be neutral, fair and consistent above all else.
Posted by Pepper on 2009-08-04:
you may or may not be responsible for the debt


this might help
Posted by D. on 2009-08-04:
Thanks Pepper...I'll check that out as well.
Posted by D. on 2009-08-04:
That's what makes me the awespome moderator here! LOL!
Posted by Slimjim on 2009-08-05:
Nice helpful post basher. It's not as valuable as pirate's google C&P about Maytag looking for a new repareman, but you're getting there :)
Posted by Anonymous on 2009-08-05:
You're doing one hell of a job there Basher. I'm glad I'm not the only one to notice the drop in the quality of reviews since Pirate's sabbatical. Perhaps maybe one day Pirate will be able to spare a little time from his humanitarian works in order to drop by and honor us with one of his award winning reviews. One can dream.
Posted by roscoe2003 on 2009-09-25:
I know its a sensitive issue but also keep in mind that debt collectors might not be aware that your loved one is deceased. That's why it might be wise to communicate that fact before the collection agency begin the hunt. please don't hate me for this comment and i am not a debt collector but do work for a financial institution and we cant always know when our beloved clients pass away unless someone lets us know. Lets keep peace in the world by using logic and common sense instead of blowing a fuse right away when you get the call from them keep in mind that they are humans just like everybody else doing a job and they understand when fatalities happen

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