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Woman’s auto bill-pay hid death

By Allison Ross ·
Friday, March 7, 2014
Posted: 4 pm ET

A Michigan woman who died in her home at least six years ago was found this week after her home went into foreclosure and a contractor sent by the bank discovered her, according to a story from the Detroit Free Press.

The reason it took so long to find her: She had set up automatic bill-pay. For years, her bills were paid automatically from her bank account, leaving people to assume all was well until her $54,000 bank balance finally dried up.

This is less a story about financial management than it is about how a person can go without being found for years. And we've sadly seen similar stories in recent years (Note: There was a great read in The Palm Beach Post last year called "What happened to suburban Lake Worth couple in Condo #1223?")

Still, the story of this Michigan woman is a somewhat strange reminder of the benefits and pitfalls of setting up automatic bill-pay.

Bankrate has written before that automatic bill-pay can help avoid late fees and provide peace of mind that high-priority bills are getting paid, even when you're busy or traveling.

But the decision to go to automatic bill-pay shouldn't be an automatic one. Bill-pay makes it easier for you to forget to keep a close eye on your finances and gives you less incentive to make sure you're being charged the right amount. In other words, it's easy to lose tabs on those bills and how much is leaving your account.

Often, it's better to set up automatic bill-pay using a credit card rather than a checking account so there are fewer worries about overdrawing. Doing it that way also helps with disputes over a charge or automatic payment. However, if you don't pay off that credit card at the end of the month, you're essentially paying interest on those bills. And if you get a new card, you might have to update all your automatic payments, Consumer Reports notes.

A report last month by Personetics Technologies found that two-thirds of people who use electronic payments have some sort of automatic bill-pay. However, of those people, only 35 percent automate payments of their credit card bills.

Do you use automatic bill-pay? If so, are there certain bills you don't set up to pay automatically?

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September 23, 2014 at 1:13 pm

no auto pay for me-they'll get it from me when I give it to them.

September 23, 2014 at 12:53 pm

So sad. How could this happen? Someone had to care about this human being.

September 23, 2014 at 11:46 am

How about the fact that in this country we care so little for our neighbors that this could happen. If you have an older person living near you and if you can be helpful .DO IT sad this person died alone. We can stop this from happening if we take the time to reach out and just be there even once a week would make a difference

September 23, 2014 at 11:46 am

Stories like this having me calling BS. Disappearing in your home for six years. She would have had to plan for that to be possible. Mail, annual taxes, etc... None of these things were found for six years. I just don't buy it. There is definitely more to this than is being stated.

Virginia Tilton
September 23, 2014 at 11:28 am

This is so sad, she didn't have any family or friends to check on her. How about her neighbor's. In our neighbor hood, we check on one another if you don't see someone out go knock on their door. If you smell anything strange, call the police.. I hope this lady rest in peace.

September 16, 2014 at 11:18 pm

What about incoming mail? Normally, mail will pile up and someone (normally the mail carrier) will notify the police that the mail has not been picked up by the homeowner.

September 16, 2014 at 12:31 am

This is what I see as the fate of a lot of older Americans. As we get older, we lose family and friends. Most couples living together are not married, so it is easier to just walk away from one another. Families are a lot smaller (number of siblings) and when they become adults they move away and become self-centered on their own problems. The same applies to groups of friends coming out of high school and college. The same applies to young people who grew up in local churches. The families, homes, schools, and churches that traditionally kept contact have done so less and less. The young adults who move into the world act likewise. They forget each other. So, the natural result of many is the attitude: "I can take care of myself. I don't need anybody else." They sign up for auto-deposit of their paychecks, and auto-pay of their bills. This carries on when they retire, and the retirement checks go directly to the bank. Now, no-one sees them (anymore), not even their old employer. They become invisible and forgotten--that is until their savings accounts or checking accounts finally run out of money when they die. And the only response is: "That's sad."

Michelle Carasco
September 11, 2014 at 8:26 am

How did no one check on her in 6 years? Did she work? Where was her family? This is so sad on so many levels.

August 31, 2014 at 10:54 am

NO KIDS OR FAMILY? No one checked on this lady in 6 years?