Debt Collectors Specializing in Deceaseds’ Debts

Most of the time, survivors are not liable for the debts of their deceased relatives. If Uncle Waldo dies and leaves a $10,000 credit card debt, Niece Lauren is not obligated to pay it. The usual exception is when Uncle Waldo has assets, his estate is probated, and the credit card company makes a timely claim against the estate assets.

But the New York Times reports that several debt collection companies, including Minneapolis-based DCM Services, are specializing in collecting deceased people’s debts, despite that usually there is no obligation to pay them.

According to the article, collecting on the debts of the dead is one of the healthiest parts of the debt collection industry. Maybe the survivors feel the deceased will rest easier if his debts are paid; maybe the survivors are concerned they will need the creditor’s services in the future.

To help ease the survivors’ minds, these debt collectors are even trained in the five stages of grief. One company explained that if a survivor was still in the denial or anger stage rather than advancing to the bargaining stage, the collector will offer to transfer him to a human resources company. There, “master’s level grief counselors” are available. After a week–presumably enough time for the survivor to recover somewhat–they are contacted again.

People pay for things they are not obligated to pay, all the time. But if you have a death in the family and are contacted by a collector, you should first ask whether you are liable for the debt. If you are making a voluntary payment, you should appreciate that it’s voluntary and not something you’ll be dunned for later if left unpaid.

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