We often hear from clients struggling to deal with debt collectors seeking repayment of debts incurred by deceased relatives. This article, from the Federal Trade Commission, outlines your rights and responsibilities when faced with this situation.
FTC June 2009
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.
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.
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.
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.