The personal representative of a probate estate of which I am the attorney and I have received letters from two different estate collection services. The letters are enquiring about whether there are assets to cover the debts of the decedent. This is something I have not seen except from the state’s collection agency for Medicaid estate recovery. I talked about this in “HMS — Just Ignore Them,” in this blog on March 2, 2012. The letters are not threatening; they even point out that family members do not have personal liability for the debts. However, it looks as if these companies want to work outside of the probate process. They may intend to persuade family members to cover debts that the estate lacks funds to pay. In other words, they want to persuade the family members to pay the decedent’s bills with their own money.
The letter received by my client, the personal representative, was from “AscensionPoint Recovery Services, LLC.” It is addressed to “Estate of Myrtle Restinpese” (not her real name) at the personal representative’s address. I know they took the address from court records or the Notice to Known Creditors because the street name has the same misspelling as on the Notice. The letter is asking the personal representative to contact the company. There is no indication of what creditor AscensionPoint is writing about.
I also received a telephone call and a letter from “Estate Information Services, LLC.” This was addressed to me as “attorney for the above-referenced estate.” It references a credit card account and is asking for the same information mailed to the credit card company with the Notice to Known Creditor “so that we may present an estate claim on behalf of the creditor.” It appears that this is a sneaky way for creditors and collection agencies to put pressure on families to send money without filing a claim.
When someone dies, either there is or there is not a probate estate. If there is a probate estate, the personal representative (aka executor or administrator) is responsible for dealing with creditors. The proper course is for the creditor to file a claim. There is no justification for a collection agency to contact anyone other than the personal represntative and there is no reason for anyone else to give information to a collection agency.
If there is no probate estate, the creditor is probably just out of luck. However, collection agencies may try to get money from surviving family members through pressure or by playing on the family members’ grief and guilt. Surviving family members generally have no obligation to cover the debts of the decedent, even if they are beneficiaries of life insurance or other insurance or financial products. They have no obligation to supply information to collections agencies and engaging in conversations with a collector is usually a mistake.
The Federal Trade Commission gives this explanation about whom a debt collector can contact:
Whom may a debt collector talk to about a deceased person’s debt?
Under the FDCPA, collectors can contact and discuss the deceased person’s debts with that person’s
spouse, parent(s) (if the deceased was a minor child), guardian, executor, or administrator. Also,
the FTC permits collectors to contact any other person authorized to pay debts with assets from
the deceased person’s estate. Debt collectors may not discuss the debts of deceased persons with
anyone else. FTD Consumer Alert.
If you are being contacted by a debt collector (or information service) about the debts of a decedent, follow Betty Ford’s adivce: “Just say, ‘No.’”
John B. Payne, Attorney
Garrison LawHouse, PC
Dearborn, Michigan 313.563.4900
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 800.220.7200
law-business.com ©2012 John B. Payne, Attorney