How bill collectors pusue left-behind debt

By Marrero, Chamizo, Marcer Law, LP,

The deceptive practices and intimidating tactics of debt collection companies in Florida and around the country have been criticized by state prosecutors, federal regulators and consumer advocates alike. One approach that has drawn particular ire is the practice of leading the loved ones of deceased debtors to believe that they are responsible for clearing up left-behind obligations. This debt is generally the responsibility of the decedent’s estate, but this may not deter bill collectors from calling individuals who have no legal reason to pay them.

Debt collectors may imply that payment is required by asking leading questions or threatening to report delinquencies to the major credit reporting companies, but advisers say these efforts should be rebuffed. They also say that bill collectors make these calls when the relatives of a deceased debtor are emotionally vulnerable and may be inclined to pay the debts of a relative or friend who has passed away because they feel it is the right thing to do.

There are some situations where individuals may be expected to pay the debts of a deceased person. Co-signers and joint account holders are held responsible for the debts of an account holder who has passed away, but authorized users are not usually considered liable. Surviving spouses who reside in a state with community property laws are expected to pay the debts of their deceased husbands and wives, but these rules do not apply if the debt concerned was taken on before the couple married.

Attorneys with debt relief experience could help individuals in this situation by sending the debt collection company concerned a written cease and desist request. The provisions of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act require bill collectors to honor these requests, and attorneys may file complaints with state prosecutors or federal agencies if they are ignored.