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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Now not even death gets you off the hook
Posted by Jill | 6:18 AM
Talk about getting money from a stone:
Dozens of specially trained agents work on the third floor of DCM Services here, calling up the dear departed’s next of kin and kindly asking if they want to settle the balance on a credit card or bank loan, or perhaps make that final utility bill or cellphone payment.

The people on the other end of the line often have no legal obligation to assume the debt of a spouse, sibling or parent. But they take responsibility for it anyway.

“I am out of work now, to be honest with you, and money is very tight for us,” one man declared on a recent phone call after he was apprised of his late mother-in-law’s $280 credit card bill. He promised to pay $15 a month.

Dead people are the newest frontier in debt collecting, and one of the healthiest parts of the industry. Those who dun the living say that people are so scared and so broke it is difficult to get them to cough up even token payments.

Collecting from the dead, however, is expanding. Improved database technology is making it easier to discover when estates are opened in the country’s 3,000 probate courts, giving collectors an opportunity to file timely claims. But if there is no formal estate and thus nothing to file against, the human touch comes into play.

New hires at DCM train for three weeks in what the company calls “empathic active listening,” which mixes the comforting air of a funeral director with the nonjudgmental tones of a friend. The new employees learn to use such anger-deflecting phrases as “If I hear you correctly, you’d like...”

“You get to be the person who cares,” the training manager, Autumn Boomgaarden, told a class of four new hires.

For some relatives, paying is pragmatic. The law varies from state to state, but generally survivors are not required to pay a dead relative’s bills from their own assets. In theory, however, collection agencies could go after any property inherited from the deceased.

But sentiment also plays a large role, the agencies say. Some relatives are loyal to the credit card or bank in question. Some feel a strong sense of morality, that all debts should be paid. Most of all, people feel they are honoring the wishes of their loved ones.

This is almost enough to make me want to rack up a bunch of debt so that if Mr. Brilliant outlives me, he can tell these people to go fuck themselves. Of course then I'd be as big an idiot as the lawyer from Lafayette, Louisiana who doesn't want to earn more because she may have to pay an additional $300 in taxes on incremental $10,000 in income.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...
While this is pathetic, you are aware that the estate does owe any proper debt of the deceased. You can't just die and not pay. Going after the "heirs" is pathetic, but ....

The really, really bad ruses are the "bills" that aren't real sent to the deceased soon after death. The heirs or whoever is trying to clean up the estate usually have no idea whether the bill is legitimate or not. And more often than not I'm told they pay.

This is particularly interesting to me at the moment because Mom just passed away last week. I'm expecting to start receiving a ton of "overdue" bill notices -- and even possibly some collection calls -- from her many "creditors". Since I was paying her bills for the last few years [she had Alzheimers], I think I know what bills she actually owed, and will pay them as soon as I can, ignoring the ones I've never seen before.

I experienced the exact same thing when Dad died about 5 years ago. Since I didn't know exactly what he owed, I started the interaction with the callers by asking for a detailed account of the bill. Those that got extraordinarily huffy and became argumentative were immediately flagged as bogus. And there were about $14,000 worth of those in slightly over 6 months. Legitimate bills, on the other hand, were less than $1000.

Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...
the thing to do is easy. tell them they are perfectly free to submit their claims to the executor of the estate.

i figure if i time things right my last written check will bounce. i hope it ain't a kid's birthday.