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Dealing with a deceased relative’s debt

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Especially during this time of crisis, dealing with the death of a loved one is hard. Dealing with a debt collector calling about their debts can make it even harder. If you’re in this situation and a debt collector calls, it’s important to know who is responsible for those debts, and what a debt collector can — and cannot — do to collect payment.

Here are some things to know:

  • A debt doesn’t go away when a person dies. But that doesn’t (usually) mean you owe it, either. The deceased person’s estate owes the debt. If there isn't enough money in the estate to cover the debt, it typically goes unpaid. There are some exceptions, though. For example, you could be responsible if you were a co-signer, or in some cases if you’re the person’s spouse. Learn about other possible exceptions to the rule here.
  • Debt collectors may only talk with certain people about a deceased person’s debt. Collectors can discuss the debt with the deceased person’s spouse, parent (if the deceased was a minor child), guardian, executor or administrator, or any other person authorized to pay debts with assets from the estate. The debt collector may not talk to anyone else about these debts. If they don’t know how to reach the right person, they can contact other relatives to ask for the correct contact information. But they can call each person only once, and they can’t get into the details of the debt or ask the relative for payment on these calls to gather contact info.
  • Debt collectors may not bend the truth to make you pay. Debt collectors cannot lie or imply that you or any other family member legally has to pay the estate’s debts out of your own pocket. It’s illegal for them to harass you to pay the debt yourself. If the deceased left debts and no assets, it’s usually not your responsibility to pay.
  • You have rights. If you think you don’t owe some (or all) of the debt, or you just don’t recognize it, send the collector a letter disputing it. Be as specific as possible about why you think the debt is wrong – but give as little personal information as possible. Once you get the validation notice (which says how much you owe, to whom, and what to do if you don’t think you owe the debt), you have 30 days to send the dispute letter. By law, the collector then must stop contacting you – though the debt doesn’t go away. But, if the collector sends you written verification of the debt, they can start contacting you again. If the collection calls get to be too much, you can stop them. Just send the collector a letter telling them to stop contacting you and the estate. Keep a copy for your records. Stopping the calls won’t cancel the debt. You still might be sued or have debt reported to a credit bureau.

For more information, read Debts and Deceased Relatives.

Blog Topics: 
Money & Credit


How is a first mortage treated?

Hello, i dn't think another should be responsible for another debt if their name is no where on. I feel that they have passed away they debt should be closed out as well with proof of death. And families that have death in their family should be bother with that during their grieving period of a love one. Thank you

When my husband died, he left a large amount of debt of which I hadn't been aware. Knowing how he loved to spend other people's money, I waited for the bills to show up.

I also notified the county Register of Wills. After receiving a copy of his death certificate, they provided official documentation naming me as executor.

Make it easier on your family; make out a will! Not making one won't stop you from dying. It will, however, make it more difficult on your grieving family. When you die, they'll already have enough to deal with. Don't add to it because you didn't want to face your eventual death. Don't wait. You could die at any moment in a car accident, a fall, a heart attack. Death isn't just for other people.

Thinking a person's death could afford scammers the opportunity to try and claim money not owed to them, I contacted the credit reporting agencies to report my husband's death. I provided a copy of his death certificate, along with the official paperwork naming me his executor to one of them, and requested a copy of his credit report. They sent it to my quickly.

Using the combined info, and working with the Register of Wills office, I was able to determine who was actually owed what. Because he owed more than he had, the amounts had to be pro-rated, meaning they receive only a portion of what was owed.

The Register of Wills office also informed me that no matter if a company demanded I send them a copy of the death certificate and Letters of Administration paperwork naming me as executor, I did not have to do that. I only had to tell them if they wanted proof of death, they should contact that office, and provide them with the address.

You will need access to email accounts. There are a lot of memberships only through email that will need canceling before you shut down the accounts. Some you may need to use via the app on the individual's phone so don't cancel that account right away.

To make it easier on executors, make sure you and your loved ones leave a list of all memberships, all accounts, all user names, passwords, and verification info.

Canceling memberships, subscriptions, and catalogs can be a pain. For months, one clothing company kept sending their catalogs to my husband no matter how many times I called. Finally, someone with a heart canceled it.

Also be sure to open an estate account at your bank in which to deposit funds and from which to pay creditors. You will need to obtain a tax id number from the IRS to use with it.

what about a debt that is in the roommates name of which they have expired I was told I got benefits since I live here and these bills are a ding to my credit report Not married to them just residing at the residence

Excellent and informative information! Thank you for sharing this with us. best regards consumer 101

Very informative

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