The last thing anyone wants after a death in the family is calls from debt collectors. So it’s important to know what a person’s creditors can (and cannot) legally do, and how to protect yourself and your family from improper or deceptive practices.
Generally, after people die, their estate is responsible for paying any debts they may have left. If the estate doesn’t have enough money to pay a debt, then the creditor is out of luck and the debt goes unpaid. The only exceptions are that a spouse may be responsible for a joint debt, and a family member or other person might be responsible if they co-signed or guaranteed a debt.
If you’re unsure, a lawyer can help you determine whether another family member is responsible for a mortgage, a credit card payment, medical bills, and so on.
A debt collector is allowed to contact the executor of an estate to discuss a debt belonging to a deceased person. A debt collector may also contact the deceased person’s spouse to discuss a debt, as well as the person’s parents (but only if the person was a minor).
Generally, debt collectors are legally barred from contacting anyone else. The one exception is that collectors can contact other relatives or friends solely for the purpose of finding out the name of the person’s executor or spouse. If they do so, they can’t tell the relatives or friends anything about the debt, and they can’t even reveal that they’re debt collectors.
Debt collectors are prohibited from misleading family members into believing that they’re responsible for a deceased person’s debts. They’re also forbidden to use abusive or offensive language.
Even if you’re responsible for paying an estate’s debts, you can still request that a debt collector stop contacting you. To do this, you need to send a letter to the debt collector asking him or her not to contact you again. You should send the letter by certified mail and get a receipt, and you should keep a copy of the letter for your records.
Once the collector receives the letter, he or she can contact you again only to (1) tell you that there will be no further contact, or (2) inform you of a lawsuit.
Of course, even if you tell a collector to stop contacting you, you and the estate will still be legally responsible for paying any debts that are legally owed.