If you’ve had a family member die recently, you may have been surprised by how quickly you started receiving phone calls from bill collectors. According to a recent New York Times story, some debt collectors are specially trained in all five stages of grief and are paid a commission to collect debts from grieving family members.
One individual reported that he was contacted by a collection agency about his late father’s credit card – and the balance wasn’t even due yet. A widow reported that her husband had left credit card debt of over $26,000 after an unsuccessful battle with cancer. When the woman explained to the bill collector that her husband had left behind no money, only debt, she was asked if there were other family members who were in a position to pay the bill.
What debt collectors often fail to mention is that there may be NO legal obligation for other family members to pay the decedent's debt. Only the deceased person’s assets are legally available to pay his or her bills. Assets that were jointly owned by a spouse or paid by a beneficiary designation, for example, belong to the survivor, not the debt collector. It is critical to consult a legal professional before you willingly agree to pay a debt belonging to someone else.
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