When dealing with a close relative’s death, it is horrible timing to have to think about money as well. Unfortunately, with death comes funeral and burial costs, and sometimes you need to handle financial obligations your relative may have left behind.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), enforced by the FTC, provides protection from assuming responsibility of a deceased relative’s debt. It is important to know your rights under the FDCPA in case you are put in the tragic situation of dealing with death and debt.
Generally, when a person dies, their debt would be paid from their estate. If money from the estate is not enough to pay off the debts, then they would typically remain unpaid. Most relatives are not legally required to pay debts. There are exceptions in certain states where people are required to cover debts left by their spouse. Because legal obligations are often limited by state law, I recommend speaking with a FDCPA attorney in your state.
Debt collectors may approach you, as a living relative, to pay the deceased’s debts. If this occurs, do not provide any of your personal information such as your social security number, bank account numbers, etc. There have been cases of con-artists finding contacts in obituaries and posing as debt collectors to steal identities and money. When contacted, tell the debt collector to get in touch with the deceased’s representative instead. It is generally illegal for the creditor to tell anyone about the deceased’s debt besides a spouse, parent, or guardian, unless the creditor needs contact information for the representative of the deceased.
If the creditor is bothersome and upsetting, the FDCPA gives you the right to take action which prevents the debt collector from contacting you. To do this, write a “cease and desist letter” which asks the creditor to stop contacting you in any way. Once the creditor receives the letter, they can only contact you once more to announce any further action or the end of their collection attempts. Make sure that you make a copy of the letter and send it by certified mail so you have a receipt.
While you are technically able to ignore debt collectors when they contact you, if you are at all responsible for the deceased’s debts you may want to try and negotiate an arrangement with them. Contact a FDCPA attorney to understand state-specific laws and finding the best direction to take during a difficult time.
For over 25 years, Jonathan Ginsberg has represented honest, hardworking men and women facing financial troubles.
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