How to Handle Collection Calls for a Dead Person's Debt

After someone dies owing credit card debt,  creditors may come calling. If you get a collections call, here's the drill. First, don't give any information (especially your Social Security number). Instead, you need to ask some questions, log the answers, then do a little research.

(See a printable .pdf version of this story, "Script: How to handle debt collection calls after someone dies.")

If the company has paperwork for you, have it mailed to the executor, your attorney, or the address on file (if that's still accessible). Don't give out your address or other information. In a pinch, have it faxed.

After the call, if you believe the debt is real:

See if it may have already been settled. (Call it paperwork error: Collections companies have been known to try to collect debts that have already been paid  or have already been dismissed in bankruptcy.) Talk with the executor to see if the debt was paid or dismissed during probate. (Especially if some time has elapsed since the death.) Is your name on the debt? If the collector is alleging that you are a joint account holder (rather than an authorized user), he should furnish proof in writing. (Just FYI: You would have had to sign the application.) Check the clock. Find out the statute of limitations for collection for the decedent's debt or the amount of time the creditor has remaining to collect. Call a lawyer. Think you might be responsible? Before you agree to anything, double-check what you're hearing from the card or collections company by talking with an attorney.

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