Collecting the Debts of the Deceased

by Adam J Krohn on June 27, 2013

(US law/generally) The death of a loved one is a very difficult time for family members.  So when debt collectors attempt to collect on a deceased person’s debt from family members, it can be very stressful and downright agitating.  Family members typically do not have an obligation to pay the debts of the deceased from their own assets.

Unfortunately, family members do not always know that it is the responsibility of the estate to pay for the debts of the deceased person.  Therefore, debt collectors are sometimes able to obtain payment from family members.  Sometimes debt collectors take advantage of grieving family members and attempt to use disingenuous tactics, which can include “phantom debts” or debts that no longer existed or never existed in the first place.

It is generally up to the executor of the estate to notify creditors and the credit bureaus that a debtor has died.  Notifying credit bureaus can also help to prevent possible identity theft. It is also considered a general courtesy to creditors.

When the fiduciary begins to notify creditors, he or she should include a copy of the death certificate and the estates contact information.  Providing this information to creditors may prevent them from contacting family members and seeking repayment from them.  The Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) has stated that it will not take action under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) against debt collectors who attempt to collect a deceased consumer’s debt as long as that debt collector communicates with someone who is authorized to pay the debts from the estate of the deceased.

Under the FDCPA, debt collectors are limited in who they may contact after a debtor has died (such as to the deceased person’s surviving spouse and the fiduciary of the estate).  However, debt collectors sometimes do ask the family of the deceased for payment of a debt.  If at the time the person passes, the debt is already in collection, it is not uncommon for loved ones to be convinced by debt collectors to make a payment.

Once a debtor has died, creditors need to file a claim against the estate in order to collection any outstanding debt.  How claims need to be filed is determined by state law.  Under the FDCPA, there are certain time limitations depending on the circumstances of the debt, when it was last paid or acknowledged, and when it occurred.

Under the FTC policy determining when they will take action against a debt collector under the FDCPA in these circumstances states that:

  • Debt collectors can only communicate with family members and other for the purpose of locating someone who is authorized to pay the deceased person’s debts from the estate.  Debt collectors also cannot mislead individuals into believing that they have the authority to pay the debts when they do not.
  • Debt collectors cannot reveal or refer to the debts of the deceased when attempting to locate someone who has the authority to pay the debts, but may say that they want to discuss the payment of the deceased person’s bills.
  • Family members and others cannot be contacted at unusual or inconvenient times or places.
  • Debt collectors must avoid creating the impress that the individual they are speaking to is liable for or could be required to pay with his or her own assets, or from the assets that are jointly held with the deceased person.

However, if a debt collector does not abide by this policy, the FTC will take action against them under the FDCPA.  In addition, you should consider retaining a FDCPA attorney who can further protect your rights from these debt collectors.

If you or a loved one has been subjected to these aggressive tactics by a creditor, please contact us immediately. We have been successfully representing those abused and taken advantage of by debt collectors for years, and have a long list of successful stories to share with you. We offer a FREE CASE REVIEW for you to assess whether we can assist you with your matter. Please do not hesitate to contact us toll free at 1-800-875-3666 if you prefer to talk to a trained professional over the phone instead, or of course, visit our website at

Adam J Krohn
Adam J. Krohn is one of the founding partners of Krohn & Moss, Ltd. Consumer Law Center® He has been admitted to practice law in Illinois, Missouri.
Adam J Krohn
Adam J Krohn

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