debt

How to deal with deceased dad's bad debts

Steve BucciQuestionDear Debt Adviser,
My father and I shared the same first and last name (I am not a "Jr.") but lived in separate states. For much of my adult life I have had to deal with creditors looking for my dad. This month my father passed away. Since that time, I have had at least three calls from debt collection companies. My wife and I do not answer the phone and often block these numbers. I know collectors just want to get paid, but I need to protect my credit. What is my best course of action?
-- Charles

AnswerDear Charles,
My condolences on the loss of your father. I know that the added burden of dealing with your father's creditors is not appreciated at this time. But not answering your phone will only prolong receiving these calls. Some simple things can help head off the calls you are receiving.

To begin with, I recommend that you obtain original copies of the death certificate; often the funeral home handling arrangements can order the death certificates for you. Next, contact your father's creditors and request that they update their files on him. Be sure to include a copy of the death certificate. It's also a good idea to forward a copy of the death certificate to all three credit reporting bureaus. They will get an update from Social Security in due time, but your direct action may get the information onto the credit file faster. If you are the executor of your father's estate, you can send the notice, with a cover letter requesting the file be marked 'deceased' and proof you are the estate executor. If someone else is the executor, you can suggest that they send the material to:

  • Experian, P.O. Box 9701, Allen, TX 75013
  • TransUnion LLC , P.O. Box 2000, Chester, PA 19022
  • Equifax, P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374

Typically, the bureaus will retain the credit report no more than 10 years. This helps prevent identity theft, should someone attempt to use a deceased person's identifying information.

Also, check with the Social Security Administration to ensure that they have updated their files. The nearest Social Security office is listed in the blue pages of your local telephone directory.

When collectors call, tell them they have reached you in error, that the person they are looking for is your father and that he is deceased. Ask where to send a copy of the death certificate and request that they not contact you again. Send the paperwork certified mail, return receipt requested, and hold on to the receipts. (Should your father have any assets in his estate, his creditors may legally pursue them.)

To protect your credit going forward, I suggest you check your credit reports to see if any of your father's negative credit information leaked into your reports. You can get free copies from all three major bureaus at AnnualCreditReport.com. You and your father may have the same name, but your other identifying information is different. Review your reports carefully and dispute anything that you believe is your father's. Don't forget to check the personal information section, to be sure his address or other personal information isn't tied to your file.

It may take awhile for all the collectors to accept that your father has passed away and they are unlikely to collect anything on his accounts. I recommend that you continue checking your reports every three months until your report is clear and collection calls stop.

Getting calls for someone else’s debts can be frustrating. I can only imagine what it must be like for the Ann Smiths or the Robert Joneses in this country. Because the credit bureaus receive billions of transactions each month and update millions of files, it’s not surprising that errors may occur. So for all my readers, I recommend that you take advantage of your free credit report every year.

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