When a loved one dies, it’s not uncommon for them to leave behind debts of some kind. Although some debts may be taken care of through the handling of the estate, others can go unattended, especially if the deceased owed more than they left behind. This can result in surviving family being contacted by debt collector agencies.

Am I responsible for debts when a family member dies?
When someone dies, surviving relatives are under no obligation whatsoever to pay on debts owed by the deceased, unless that relative or person co-signed a loan or credit line. Yet when a bank or other entity is owed a debt by someone they know is deceased, they’ll nonetheless hand over the account to a collection agency that specializes in postmortem debt collection, hoping that family members might agree to pay some of what their dead relative owed.

Yet as you might expect, these collection agencies, which get paid according to what they collect, routinely try to trick family into thinking that they are now responsible for the debts of the deceased. Once again, this is completely false unless you signed as a co-signer. In fact, it is a violation of both federal and state laws to mislead people by telling them that they are responsible for the debt of a dead relative. Debt collectors may also use harassing tactics, calling over and over again in the hopes that you’ll fork over some money just to get them off your back.

If you’re having this problem, the first step is to let them know you won’t be duped: clearly state that you are under no legal obligation to pay on this debt and that you won’t be doing so. State that they are using deceitful and illegal tactics in suggesting that you make good on someone elses account. If this doesn’t work, you should file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, and tell them you have done so. If they continue to harass you, a certified letter sent to the agency giving them notice of intent to sue will often get the point across. As a last ditch effort, you can try actually suing. Although this is a royal hassle with often uncertain results, one woman recently won a monetary settlement in a lawsuit against a bank and collection agency, after they called her as many as 10 times a day over a $16,651.52 credit card bill that her late husband had amassed.