After a relative dies, the last thing grieving family members want are calls from debt collectors asking
them to pay a loved one's debts. As a rule, those debts are paid from the deceased person's estate.
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation's consumer protection agency, family
members typically are not obligated to pay the debts of a deceased relative from their own assets.
What's more, family members – and all consumers – are protected by the federal Fair Debt Collection
Practices Act (FDCPA), which prohibits debt collectors from using abusive, unfair, or deceptive
practices to try to collect a debt.
Under the FDCPA, a debt collector is someone who regularly collects debts owed to others. This
includes collection agencies, lawyers who collect debts on a regular basis, and companies that buy
delinquent debts and then try to collect them.
Does a debt go away when the debtor dies?
No. The estate of the deceased person owes the debt. If there isn't enough money in the estate to
cover the debt, it typically goes unpaid. But there are exceptions to this rule. You may be responsible
for the debt if you:
• co-signed the obligation;
• live in a community property state, such as California;
• are the deceased person's spouse and state law requires you to pay a particular type of debt, like some health care expenses; or
• were legally responsible for resolving the estate and didn't comply with certain state probate laws.
If you have questions about whether you are legally obligated to pay a deceased person's debts from
your own assets, talk to a lawyer.
Who has the authority to pay the deceased person's debt out of his or her assets?
The person named in a will who is responsible for settling a deceased person's affairs is called the
executor. If there is no will, the court may appoint an administrator, personal representative, or
universal successor, and give them the authority to settle the affairs. In some states, others (or other
people) may have that authority, even if they haven't been formally appointed by the court.
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
If a debt collector contacts a deceased person's relative, what can they talk about?
Collectors are allowed to contact third parties (such as a relative) to get the name, address, and telephone number of the deceased person's spouse, executor, administrator, or other person authorized to pay the deceased's debts. Collectors usually are permitted to contact such third parties only once to get this information. The main exception is if a collector reasonably believes that the information provided initially was inaccurate or incomplete, and that the third party now has more accurate or complete information. But, collectors cannot say anything about the debt to the third party.
Even if I am authorized to pay a deceased person's debt, can I stop a debt collector from
contacting me about the debt?
Yes. To exercise this right, you must send a letter to the collector stating that you do not want the
collector to contact you again. A telephone call is not enough. Make a copy of your letter for your
files, send the original by certified mail, and pay for a "return receipt" so you can document what
the collector received and when. Once the collector gets your letter, he cannot contact you again
except to confirm that there will be no further contact or that he or the creditor plans to take a specific
action, like filing a lawsuit to collect the debt. Keep in mind that even if you stop collectors from
communicating with you, you are still responsible for the debt.
For Complaints and More Information
Report any problems you have with a debt collector to your state Attorney General's office at
naag.org and the Federal Trade Commission at ftccomplaintassistant.gov. Many states have their
own debt collection laws that are different from the federal FDCPA. Your Attorney General's office
can help you determine your rights under your state's law.
For more information about debt collection and additional rights provided under the FDCPA, see
Debt Collection FAQs: A Guide for Consumers and visit ftc.gov/MoneyMatters, which offer short
practical tips, videos, and links to reliable sources on topics like credit repair, debt collection,
job-hunting and job scams, vehicle repossession, managing mortgage payments and foreclosure
The FTC works to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop and avoid them. To file a complaint or get free information on consumer issues, visit ftc.gov or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. Watch a video, How to File a Complaint, at ftc.gov/video to learn more. The FTC enters consumer complaints into the Consumer Sentinel Network, a secure online database and investigative tool used by hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
ACA INTERNATIONAL SUPPORTS FTC POLICY ON COLLECTING DEBTS OF THE DECEASED
Respectful Communication with the Estate is Important - Collectors Cannot Mislead Family Members
MINNEAPOLIS - (July 26, 2011) ACA International, the association of credit and collection professionals, supports the Federal Trade Commission's recently finalized policy statement bringing clarity to the complexities of collecting on a decedent's debt.
"The FTC's policy recognizes the challenges with estate administration and provides much needed clarity on how collectors may communicate with people to find those authorized to settle outstanding debts from a decedent's estate," said ACA International Chief Executive Officer Patrick J. Morris.
The FTC's policy statement clarifies the 1977 Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), which determines whom debt collectors may contact after a relative has died such as the deceased person's spouse and the executor or administrator of the deceased person's estate. "The FTC showed great wisdom in updating the FDCPA to be consistent with the complexities of state probate law," said Morris.
ACA International agrees with the FTC guideline that rightfully owed debt should be collected from an estate respectfully, without misleading relatives or by using deceptive or abusive tactics. As outlined by the FTC, family members are typically not obligated to pay the debts of a deceased relative from their own assets.
Consumers seeking information on their rights in debt collection can visit www.askdoctordebt.com, a free resource to answer questions. In addition, the FTC has information for consumers about debt collection involving a deceased relative: Paying the Debts of a Deceased Relative: Who Is Responsible?
ACA International is the comprehensive, knowledge-based resource for success in the credit and collection industry. Founded in 1939, ACA brings together more than 5,000 members in the United States and abroad, and their more than 150,000 employees, including third-party collection agencies, asset buyers, attorneys, creditors and vendor affiliates. ACA establishes a wide variety of products, services and publications. For more information on ACA International, visit www.acainternational.org.