When a relative dies, the last thing their bereaved family members want is to receive calls from a debt collector to ask them to pay their loved one's debts.
Who is responsible for paying the debts of a deceased person?
As a general rule, a person's debts do not disappear at death. Those debts are passed on to the deceased person's estate and are paid out of that money. Under the law, family members do not usually have to pay a deceased relative's debts out of their own money. If the estate does not have enough money to cover the debt, it usually goes unpaid. But there are some exceptions to this rule. You may be responsible for paying the debt in the following cases:
- Yes co-signed the obligation, for example, acted as a joint signatory to a car loan.
- If you are the spouse of the decedent and live in a community property state, e.g., California.
- If you are the spouse of the deceased person and live in a state where you are required to pay a specific type of debt, such as certain health care expenses.
- If you were legally responsible for executing the decedent's estate and did not follow certain state probate laws.
If you have questions about whether you are legally obligated to pay a deceased person's debts with your own money, talk to a lawyer. Depending on your level of income, you may be able to access free legal services from a legal assistance organization near you.
Who pays debts from a deceased person's estate?
The executor, who is the person named in a will to carry out what the will says after the person's death, is responsible for settling the deceased person's debts.
If there is no will, a court may appoint an administrator, personal representative or universal heir and authorize him or her to execute matters relating to the decedent's assets. In some states, that authority may be given to another person not appointed by the court. For example, state law may establish a different process for someone to become the representative of the estate even if he or she has not been formally appointed by the court.
Who can a debt collector contact to discuss a deceased person's debt?
The law protects people, including family members, against debt collectors who use abusive, unfair or deceptive practices to try to collect a debt.
Under the Fair Debt Collection Act (FDCPA), collectors may communicate and discuss a decedent's outstanding debts only with the following persons:
- Father and mother, if the deceased person was a minor, which is generally defined as under 18 years of age.
- Guardian or legal representative.
- The executor, administrator, or personal representative with authority to pay debts from the assets of the decedent's estate.
- A confirmed heir or successor in title, which is someone who has been confirmed by a mortgage trustee as the new owner of the decedent's real estate.
Debt collectors cannot discuss a deceased person's debts with anyone else.
If you fall into one of the categories listed above, you have rights. For example, debt collectors:
- They cannot contact you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., (unless you agree to let them do so).
- They cannot call you at work if you tell them you are not allowed to receive calls there.
- They cannot communicate with you by email or text message if you ask them to stop doing so.
A debt collector also has to...
Give you "validation information" about the debt, either during your first phone call or in writing within five days of the date you were first contacted. That information must include the following:
- The name and mailing address of the debt collector.
- The amount of money you owe, with a written itemization of interest, fees, payments, and credits.
- The name of the creditor to whom you owe money.
- What you need to do if you think the debt is not yours.
- Your rights regarding debt collection.
- A form that can be used to send back to the debt collector to dispute the debt or take other actions.
Can a debt collector contact me to obtain information about a deceased person's representatives?
Collectors may contact relatives or persons related to the decedent (who do not have authority to pay debts owed to the estate) to obtain contact information for the decedent's representatives. This contact information includes the name, address, and telephone number of the spouse, executor, administrator, personal representative, or other person who may act on behalf of the decedent's estate. Generally, collectors may contact these individuals only once to obtain this information, but may not discuss the details of the debt.
The debt collectors They may contact you again to ask for updated information, or if the family member or someone else gave incorrect or incomplete information to the debt collector. But collectors cannot discuss the debt.
Can I stop a debt collector from contacting me about a deceased family member's debt?
If you are responsible for paying the debt of a deceased family member, the law grants you several of the same rights that you havethe original debtor. This includes preventing a debt collection company from contacting you.. To do so, send a letter or email to the debt collector. A phone call is not enough. Tell the collector that you do not want him or her to contact you again. Keep a copy of the email or letter for your records, and if you send a letter, send it by certified mail, and pay for a "return receipt requested" so you can document the date the collector received the letter.
Once the collection company has received your request, it may only contact you again for one of the following two reasons:
- To confirm that he will stop communicating with you from now on.
- To inform you that it plans to take a specific action, for example, a lawsuit.
But even if you get debt collectors to stop contacting you, the debt does not go away. The debt collectors may continue to try to collect the debt from the estate or anyone else who is responsible for paying it.
For more information on the collection of debts and your rights, read Debt Collection Frequently Asked Questions.
How to report problems with a debt collector
Report any problems you have with a debt collector before:
Several states have their own legislation regarding the collection of debts which is different from federal law. Your state attorney general's office can help you understand your rights under your state law.