Debt collectors going after the dead

As if the recession, high unemployment and home foreclosures isn't giving them enough business, debt collectors are finding new clients in the deceased.

Actually, it's the survivors of the dead. And while they don't have a legal obligation to assume the debt, they sometimes do out of respect for the dead or because they think it's the right thing to do to settle a debt, according to a New York Times story.

The debt collectors are going after bills as low as a $50 credit card bill, or convincing a relative to make a $15 monthly payment on a due bill.

While I understand the moral obligation to pay your bills, paying a loved one's bills is too much. After my mom died I gladly paid the piano teacher she hired a month or so before she died. And I had to pay the funeral service. But if there were any bills around, or if any collectors had called me, my response would have been to take a hike.

The Times story points out that while the law varies by state, generally survivors aren't required to pay a dead relative's bills from their own assets. Collection agencies could go after any inherited property. In my view, asking widows to pay these debts is a low move.

The calls can have a good side, however, beyond getting a debt paid off. The debt collection firm in the Times story, DCM Services, started a Web site to help the bereaved with information to help them learn about probate, grief, funeral planning and other issues they'll likely face.

The site may also some day offer products. While not selling death, it is trying to help a survivor and help ease the ending of one customer relationship while beginning another.

Aaron Crowe is an unemployed journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Read about his job search at

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