Death Debt and Collections

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Dealing with the death of a dear loved one is stressful enough without bringing legal issues into the fold. Unfortunately, when a loved one, like a mother, passes away with debt, creditors are often quick to pounce on the family of the deceased to collect their debt.

Do they have a right to collect debt from the family?

People who inherit from a deceased loved one have limited liability. Their liability is limited in most cases to the amount that they inherited, and that is not particularly easy to obtain. For example, a mother who passes away who does not leave an estate or any assets for the creditors to collect on leaves no inheritance for a collector to attach. There is very little that creditors can do, legally, to enforce this debt. For the most part, they are limited to phone calls and letters. For the family, it is an annoyance during a grievous time.

How to get creditors to back off?

Despite the stressful nature of this situation, the burden still falls on the family to provide the correct documentation to the creditors to stop the harassment. The family will need to send documentation to the creditor showing the value of the deceased family member’s estate to be zero. The documentation should also state that the deceased had no assets and quite simply, you are not going to pay. The terms that help are “Cease communications” and “refuse to pay”.

They can’t sue you, but can you sue them?

It is possible that you can sue the debt collectors if they fail to comply after you have sent the proper documentation, and demanding that they cease communications with you. When they do fail to comply, they are in fact, in violation of the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA) and you can sue them. If the debt shows up on your credit report, you will have to jump through all of the necessary legal hoops, but that is also a violation of the FDCPA and may also violate the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), which also gives you another basis to sue them. Consult with a consumer protection attorney to go over options for pursuing this case.

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Krumbein Consumer Legal Services, Inc.
5310 Markel Rd.
Suite 102
Richmond, VA 23230