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The Dunning of the Dead
March 4, 2009 12:54 AM   Subscribe

"Dead people are the newest frontier in debt collecting, and one of the healthiest parts of the industry. Those who dun the living say that people are so scared and so broke it is difficult to get them to cough up even token payments. Collecting from the dead, however, is expanding."
posted by Knappster (96 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow, this is just awful.

“You get to be the person who cares,” the training manager, Autumn Boomgaarden, told a class of four new hires.


Does anyone believe this? Why even bother saying it? I suppose the callers will do a better job collecting if they truly believe they're only trying to help...

And why would you pay the banks out of a moral obligation? In life the banks do everything they possibly can to fuck you. People really need to stop extending moral concepts that apply to people onto corporations.
posted by creasy boy at 1:24 AM on March 4, 2009 [27 favorites]


See, people are moral out of fear, so you can threaten the peaceful "rest" of their relatives to squeeze them for indulgences.

We need a Martin Luther.
posted by orthogonality at 1:37 AM on March 4, 2009 [5 favorites]


The people on the other end of the line often have no legal obligation to assume the debt of a spouse, sibling or parent. But they take responsibility for it anyway.

“I am out of work now, to be honest with you, and money is very tight for us,” one man declared on a recent phone call after he was apprised of his late mother-in-law’s $280 credit card bill. He promised to pay $15 a month.


Some relatives are loyal to the credit card or bank in question.

Scott Weltman of Weltman, Weinberg & Reis, a Cleveland law firm that performs deceased collections, says that if family members ask, “we definitely tell them” they have no legal obligation to pay. “But is it disclosed upfront — ‘Mr. Smith, you definitely don’t owe the money’? It’s not that blunt.”

If a relative is more focused on denial or anger instead of, say, bargaining, the collector offers to transfer him to the human resources company Ceridian LifeWorks, where “master’s level grief counselors” are standing by. After a week, the relative is contacted again.

DCM executives say some of the survivors not only gladly pay but write appreciative notes.

Holy fucking god.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:59 AM on March 4, 2009 [11 favorites]


A young, mildly mentally disabled man who is known to my family was convinced to take on the debt for the funeral of his estranged, abusive, alcoholic mother - a particularly expensive funeral he didn't plan, didn't attend, and didn't even know about until after the fact (I think it was arranged by his mother's boyfriend, who conveniently disappeared when the bill came due). The funeral director took advantage of the young man's mental disability and convinced him that if he didn't pay, he would lose the small house left to him by his father years before his mother died (claiming that since his parents were briefly married when the young man was born, the house was actually part of his mother's estate even though it was willed to the young man by his father, who had also been estranged from his mother for years and years). The funeral director did such a good job convincing him that no one has been able to convince him that he isn't responsible for the debt and he faithfully pays every month, even though he can barely afford to keep himself fed, clothed, and warm. Whenever anyone tries to talk to him about it, he just says 'I'm not going to lose my house over this' and that's the end of it. Part of his disability entails some OCD-like obsessive habits and I think at this point, even if the funeral director were to knock on his door and say 'sorry I was wrong, you don't actually have to pay', he still would. In his mind, not paying=losing his home and nothing can convince him otherwise.

Anyway, it's not just credit card companies and mortgage companies. All kinds of vultures swoop in to take advantage of people when they are confused, vulnerable, and grief-stricken. It's good that light is being shed on this, the more people know, the more they can protect themselves and others in these situations.
posted by cilantro at 2:09 AM on March 4, 2009 [12 favorites]


Thats insane.
posted by mary8nne at 2:27 AM on March 4, 2009


It would be more tasteful, and possibly more ethical, if they just exhumed the bodies and took out the gold teeth: no need to push the burden of debt directly onto grieving loved ones.
posted by MuffinMan at 2:45 AM on March 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


Yes, the dead need a Martin Luther Zombie, Jr to cry out for "Chaaaange!" Not to be confused with everyday zombies looking for "Braaaains!"

You could not hire me for this 'job', no matter the pay. Plus, the sales line doesn't seem quite right. It should be more like, "If you don't pay up, we're gonna kill your loved one." It just doesn't have quite the same pizzazz when it's, "Your loved one has been killed, so pay up."
posted by jamstigator at 3:38 AM on March 4, 2009


This is only going to get worse.
When we finally climb out of this economic mess, so many people are going to be so deep in debt, thanks to simply having to find some way to pay the basic monthly bills, even after job loss, pay cuts, etc., that these guys are going to look like saints compared to the collection troops yet to come.

Fwiw, a recent scan of job "opportunities" in my local area was dominated by openings for debt collection and foreclosure positions. I know I couldn't do the work...right now. If things get much worse, though, I just might have to get past the "inmate working as executioner" feeling and do it.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:54 AM on March 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


This is only going to get worse.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:54 AM


I agree. It's during these times of economic trouble and confusion that these types of collectors will flourish. They'll use any advantage they can to get your money away from you, and these days people are much more vulnerable. Disgusting bastards.
posted by orme at 4:13 AM on March 4, 2009


How is this not flat-out illegal? This is scamming, con-artistry on a massive scale. Oh, I don't doubt that the debts are real, but when they become uncollectable, they just find someone else to pay? There are certain jobs that are just immoral, and this is one of them.
posted by explosion at 4:19 AM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


This happened in my family; my uncle passed away a while ago, and I got a call from a debt collector for a debt from his pathologist. I'm sure it was legit (that company were actually his pathologist), so I gave them the name of his estate solicitor. But at the time, it occurred to me that if it was a scam, it'd be the sort of scam that would be highly likely to succeed. Whether or not it's a legitimate debt, estate solicitors and executors are probably going to just pay up, since in many cases they'll lack any information to contest the debt. If the bill looks like something the deceased ordered but never actually paid for, it'll probably just get paid. Which made me wonder at the time if that scam was being practiced, if people were scanning the funeral notices for victims to send random bills to.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 4:38 AM on March 4, 2009


Not everyone has the temperament to make such calls. About half of DCM’s hires do not make it past the first 90 days. For those who survive, many tools help them deal with stress: yoga classes and foosball tables, a rotating assortment of free snacks as well as full-scale lunches twice a month. A masseuse comes in regularly to work on their heads and necks.

What they really need is someone to work on their souls.
posted by stargell at 5:19 AM on March 4, 2009 [9 favorites]


Just wait until organ banks get profitable.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:30 AM on March 4, 2009


Huffington Post or someone recently had an essay on this topic. The author laid out what he was told by the bank trying to collect on his mother's credit card debt, as I recall. Among other things, the collector tried very hard to convince him, without actually saying it, that the debt was his. The guy knew better but the collector, he wrote, seemed to be reading from a script and pooh-poohed his suggestions that the bank file a claim against her estate. The collector even suggested that by not paying the bill, the author was contributing to the banking crisis. Very creepy.
posted by etaoin at 5:36 AM on March 4, 2009


um... etaoin? Check the second link in the FPP.
posted by caution live frogs at 5:55 AM on March 4, 2009


etaoin, if you read the links you'll notice that's exactly the same story that's recounted in the second link of this FPP, the part about the deceased contributing to the banking crisis is even in the URL of the link.
posted by cilantro at 5:56 AM on March 4, 2009


Anyway, it's not just credit card companies and mortgage companies. All kinds of vultures swoop in to take advantage of people when they are confused, vulnerable, and grief-stricken.

See also: funeral homes.
posted by orange swan at 6:02 AM on March 4, 2009


“In times of illness and death, the hierarchy of debts is adjusted,” said Michael Ginsberg of Kaulkin Ginsberg, a consulting company to the debt collection industry. “We do our best to make sure our doctor is paid, because we might need him again. And we want the dead to rest easy, knowing their obligations are taken care of.”

I blame religion! <>somewhat tongue in cheek

People will rest "easy" in their graves whether or not their bills are paid; that's what dead meat does-- it rests easy. I wish we could all just get past this idea that the dead care about anything, that they are up in heaven looking down on us, or walking the earth as haunts until their souls are released. The Dead. Don't. Care.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:12 AM on March 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


See also: funeral homes.

And realtors. My mother started getting solicitations for her house the day my dad's obit ran.
posted by stargell at 6:16 AM on March 4, 2009


That's why, when I die, I want my family to cut my body up into pieces and send it to all my creditors.
posted by robtf3 at 6:20 AM on March 4, 2009 [17 favorites]


Yep, Orange Swan, funeral homes were exactly what I was talking about in my (probably too long and boring to read) tangentially connected anecdote which preceded the part of my comment you quoted.
posted by cilantro at 6:27 AM on March 4, 2009


Ghoul: A creature that robs graves, and eats the dead.

I thought they were mythological. Now I see that they look like a blonde with a phone headset.
posted by bitmage at 6:28 AM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is actual honest to goodness scam and should be regulated every which way to kingdom come. Also, we should set debt collectors on the directors and shareholders of all our failed banks, and see if we can convince them that being a legally separate person from a bankrupt entity is not a bar to recovery.

fuckers.
posted by tiny crocodile at 6:32 AM on March 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


Paul Kelleher: Yes, I'm calling to inform you that my mom died on the 24th of January.

Bank of America Estates representative: I'm sorry. Oh, it looks like she never even missed a payment. That's too bad. Well, how are you planning to take care of her balance?


Oh that's hilarious. I get the message that her passing is particularly sad because she never missed a payment! The greeting card industry should get in on this. And poets. Where are the mournful elegies lamenting the passing of a customer who never missed a payment?

Elegy Written in a Strip Mall Bank

Haply some hoary-headed bank clerk may say,
"Often have we seen him ere the sun has set,
Rushing with hasty steps to the National bank,
To make his timely payments upon his debt.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:33 AM on March 4, 2009 [6 favorites]


an actual honest to goodness scam...

/angry typing
posted by tiny crocodile at 6:36 AM on March 4, 2009


This must be a common collection method.

My parents both died within a year of each other a year ago. Huge supporters of the credit industry they were never big on living within their means and left quite a bit of credit card debt -- and little else.

Within days the collectors started calling and most implied that we were responsible for their debt. A couple of them (oddly, Wachovia was the only creditor who said they were sorry for our loss and wouldn't be bothering us again) went as far as to tell me that their debt would reflect on my credit.

In the midst of funeral planning and everything else that goes along with an unanticipated death I found myself agreeing to payment arrangements just to make them stop calling. On some level I knew it wasn't my debt but on the other hand I wanted to get everything resolved and had some vague feeling that I was honoring my parents by paying their debt. Later, when things settled down, it dawned on me that I couldn't possibly afford to pay off their debt. At that point I began sending photocopied death certificates along with contact information for my attorney instead of money -- they stopped calling pretty quickly although Bank of America actually managed to get some of my fathers debt into my credit report.

These people prey on others when they are at their most vulnerable and when their decision making ability is impaired, it is just wrong and what I find most frustrating is that there doesn't seem to be a thing anyone can do about it. It isn't as though I can take my business away and unless you are fortunate enough to record an employee drifting over that very fine line what they are doing remains legal.
posted by cedar at 6:39 AM on March 4, 2009 [8 favorites]


Someone wrote in to talking points memo about this when it happened to them.
posted by delmoi at 6:41 AM on March 4, 2009


That's the second link of the FPP, delmoi
posted by cilantro at 6:44 AM on March 4, 2009


I will gladly remit $15 each month toward my dead parent's unpaid account, on receipt of a high-quality blowjob preceding each such payment. Inferior-quality blowjobs will not meet the requirements of this agreement, and will not result in payments toward the debt. High quality is defined as follows ...
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:49 AM on March 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


Nice title, by the way.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:59 AM on March 4, 2009


Related: Ex-Leaders of Countrywide Profit From Bad Loans:

...Countrywide Financial and its top executives would be on most lists of those who share blame for the nation’s economic crisis....the banking behemoth made risky loans to tens of thousands of Americans, helping set off a chain of events that has the economy staggering.

So it may come as a surprise that a dozen former top Countrywide executives now stand to make millions from the home mortgage mess.

Stanford L. Kurland, Countrywide’s former president, and his team have been buying up delinquent home mortgages that the government took over from other failed banks, sometimes for pennies on the dollar. They get a piece of what they can collect.

posted by ornate insect at 7:03 AM on March 4, 2009


I like this excerpt from Margaret Atwood's recent series of lectures about the subject of debt:

"As for what will happen to us next, I have no safe answers. If fair regulations are established and credibility is restored, people will stop walking around in a daze, roll up their sleeves and start picking up the pieces. Things unconnected with money will be valued more — friends, family, a walk in the woods. 'I' will be spoken less, 'we' will return, as people recognize that there is such a thing as the common good. On the other hand, if fair regulations are not established and rebuilding seems impossible, we could have social unrest on a scale we haven’t seen for years."
posted by blucevalo at 7:05 AM on March 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


Yep, Orange Swan, funeral homes were exactly what I was talking about in my (probably too long and boring to read) tangentially connected anecdote which preceded the part of my comment you quoted.

I did read your anecdote, cilantro. I meant (and probably should have specified) that in addition to being unscrupulous debt collectors as you described, funeral homes often try to talk people into extra expenses at a time when they are not able to cope with a sales pitch. A former co-worker of mine had to make funeral arrangements for her stillborn niece, and I was appalled by her account of dealing with funeral home employees. They offer services like encasing the coffin in cement, which so far as I understand serves no practical purpose but to preserve the coffin — like that matters.
posted by orange swan at 7:09 AM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


'I' will be spoken less, 'we' will return, as people recognize that there is such a thing as the common good.

To me, this just sounds pollyanna-ish and naive. It glosses over some ugly historical realities about capitalism that mere "regulations" will not change. It implies that a few minor tweaks of the system will allow us all to fall blissfully asleep again. Sorry, but the quote just strikes me as strangely simplistic.
posted by ornate insect at 7:13 AM on March 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


But sentiment also plays a large role, the agencies say. Some relatives are loyal to the credit card or bank in question.

I don't about you - but that freaked me out more than even the rest of it.
posted by Joe Beese at 7:14 AM on March 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


They offer services like encasing the coffin in cement

Note to self: how to tell the mob is running your local funeral home.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:17 AM on March 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


On the other hand, if fair regulations are not established and rebuilding seems impossible, we could have social unrest on a scale we haven’t seen for years.

Heh. I could do with seeing a few financial industry CEOs being dragged into the street by angry mobs. Seriously. These fucks are far too wealthy and connected to understand or care what the fallout of their actions are to the general populace, and there seems to be zero interest on the part of the elected caste to make them accountable. Violence may actually be the only thing that gets their attention. It's pretty much the scenario behind most social/political upheavals.

I just wonder how bad things will have to get before the police and/or private security goons would gladly look the other way?
posted by Thorzdad at 7:22 AM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Note to self: how to tell the mob is running your local funeral home

They don't bother with the coffin before encasing you in concrete?
posted by Electric Dragon at 7:23 AM on March 4, 2009


from the tpm comments:
What a total dump this country has turned into.
posted by localhuman at 7:26 AM on March 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


I getcha, Orange Swan, I didn't mean to sound snarky.
Even more tangentially related to the original post, but directly related to your comment, -when a friend of mine died there was a charge on the bill for the use of a van to take the flowers to the cemetary. There were no flowers (well, a couple of sprays on the coffin, but that was it) because my friend had made it clear during her long illness that she didn't want flowers, only donations to cancer charities. The funeral home refused to remove the charge (something like 200 dollars). Their reasoning? They had to keep the van on standby, JUST IN CASE there were flowers, even though the funeral home had been informed to tell people that the family preferred donations. So the van couldn't be used for anything else and had to be paid for.

Personally, when I die, I'd like to be thrown to the orcas at SeaWorld while What a Wonderful World (Louis Armstrong version, of course) plays on the loudspeaker system.
posted by cilantro at 7:28 AM on March 4, 2009 [5 favorites]


See! I am so happy my parents are dead! I don't get calls like that.
posted by Postroad at 7:35 AM on March 4, 2009


And we want the dead to rest easy, knowing their obligations are taken care of.

I'll put the world on notice now: if my estate cannot cover all my debts when I die, I will rest easier knowing that my loved ones are not paying debts that are not theirs.

Since these predators have a script to help them prey on the grieving, I think I will write a script myself and leave it in my will for easy access.

To my relatives and friends, here's how I want your conversation with debt collectors to go when I'm gone:
Q: grouse left this unpaid bill when he died.
A: Please file a claim with the estate.
Q: It would probably better if you paid it directly.
A: Fuck you.
Q: [anything else]
A: No really, fuck you, you immoral vulture. [hang up]
posted by grouse at 7:46 AM on March 4, 2009 [23 favorites]


It's a relief to me to think that if I should die before my parents, they won't be pestered by creditors since I don't have any debts other than my mortgage. One time though I was trying to tell my mother how I had left things and about the death benefits she would get from my employer, and she said, "I don't want to hear about it!"

I said, "Mum, if I should die, do you want to grieve here, or in Hawaii?"

Without missing a beat, she said, "Hawaii!"
posted by orange swan at 7:57 AM on March 4, 2009 [7 favorites]


In the midst of funeral planning and everything else that goes along with an unanticipated death I found myself agreeing to payment arrangements just to make them stop calling.

...

Bank of America actually managed to get some of my fathers debt into my credit report.

posted by cedar at 9:39 AM on March 4 [1 favorite +] [!]


Doesn't voluntarily assuming payments make you legally liable for the debt? I could swear I saw an AskMe about this...I don't remember the answer to the question but I'll be damned if I can find it again.
posted by Ziggy Zaga at 8:00 AM on March 4, 2009


I keep trying to contribute to this thread but coming up empty. Dealing with the stress of debt resolution when my parents die is a constant worry for me. However, this is the first Google result on 'mortgage death'.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 8:14 AM on March 4, 2009


Referring calls like these to the attorney who's handling the estate is a great idea. They'll know what the estate's legally obligated to pay (if anything). Scammers may or may not be willing to try to scam an attorney, but the attorney stands a better chance of filtering out the scammers than does a grief-stricken surviving loved one.

I suggest taping the attorney's contact info to the phone to jog the memories of the scammers' intended victims. Maybe tape it next to a sign that reminds the surviving family member, in his or her own handwriting, "You have rights.".
posted by Flipping_Hades_Terwilliger at 8:26 AM on March 4, 2009


Doesn't voluntarily assuming payments make you legally liable for the debt?

Not often. If you start making payments on your own debt, that's a legal assumption of the debt, and the clock on the statute of limitations on collection restarts. Otherwise, it seems doubtful.

If I write a check for your mortgage one month because you're my buddy and having a hard time, the bank in no way can peg me for further payments in the future.

On the other hand, after reading about this, I've become determined to charge massive bills on my credit cards and give away my entire estate before I die if ever I'm terminally ill. I'd normally never think of such a thing, but knowing these companies specifically prey on people for what amounts to pocket change for them, I'd want to turn the tables for a little bit.

I imagine emptying one's estate prior to death is probably a good idea anyway, as one can never know what medical bills might rack up prior to death.
posted by explosion at 8:29 AM on March 4, 2009


My apologies for duplicating the link. I'm under the weather today and not reading things very well. I'll go away now.
posted by etaoin at 8:37 AM on March 4, 2009


explosion: if you are giving away your estate in order to defraud your creditors, then the creditors can go after the beneficiaries for the money.
posted by grouse at 8:39 AM on March 4, 2009


I love this line from the second link:

BOA: You mean you're not going to help her out?

PK: I wouldn't be helping her out -- she's dead. I'd be helping you out.

Precise and to the point.
posted by Skeptic at 8:48 AM on March 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


"If you start making payments on your own debt, that's a legal assumption of the debt..."

I think that was the subject of the AskMe I had in mind. Makes more sense now.

If I write a check for your mortgage one month because you're my buddy and having a hard time, the bank in no way can peg me for further payments in the future.

Perhaps not since there is no formality, just a one-time payment. Given the above, I'm wondering if in cedar's case part of his "agreeing to payment arrangements" involved some shady clause that made him responsible for the entire account.
posted by Ziggy Zaga at 8:49 AM on March 4, 2009


Many who are aghast at stories like this on paper actually contribute to the success of these operations. How? Well, how many of you have been impressed by someone with a nice new car or house or person who spends their money on ostentatious displays? If you have you are part of the problem and are further contributing to their neurosis and American society's neurosis. If we as a society actively shamed those who pursued wealth for the sake of wealth I think operations like this would be less. Our societal respect hierarchy needs to be reconfigured toward people who do great things for society not those who suck as much wealth as they can out of it.
posted by any major dude at 8:58 AM on March 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


They offer services like encasing the coffin in cement

In some places this is required by law. The coffin must be placed in the grave in a sealed concrete container. I have no idea why, maybe somebody saw too many zombie movies.
posted by Gungho at 9:26 AM on March 4, 2009


I plan on being morbidly obese at the time of my death so that my heirs may offer each of my creditors a pound of the genuine article.
posted by uncleozzy at 9:27 AM on March 4, 2009


Our societal respect hierarchy needs to be reconfigured toward people who do great things for society not those who suck as much wealth as they can out of it.

Agreed, but to do so would require a revolution. Do we have one in us? It's probably long overdue.
posted by ornate insect at 9:34 AM on March 4, 2009


How is this not flat-out illegal?

First thing that jumped to my mind as well. Not a lawyer myself, but it seems to me that this opens the practitioner to fraud charges. No ambitious junior DAs out there looking to make a reputation?
posted by IndigoJones at 9:43 AM on March 4, 2009


If families are not legally obligated to pay isn't this the same thing as asking ANYBODY to pay something that they don't owe, i.e., a swindle? I mean, why not call their neighbors while you are at it?

The rotisserie is waiting for you in Hell boys! The lack of morality in capitalism was just starting to hit stride too...
posted by zerobyproxy at 10:00 AM on March 4, 2009


"I know I couldn't do the work...right now. If things get much worse, though, I just might have to get past the 'inmate working as executioner' feeling and do it."

Well, one vulture business I wouldn't feel so bad about is buying up the assets of failed or shrinking companies and reselling them. You don't necessarily have to eat the carrion of individuals who have fallen on tough times. Of course, a failed business also means unemployed people, but selling the assets of a failed company doesn't hurt anyone.
posted by krinklyfig at 10:02 AM on March 4, 2009


krinklyfig, let's you and me buy GM! I have like fifty bucks.
posted by Mister_A at 10:06 AM on March 4, 2009


if you are giving away your estate in order to defraud your creditors, then the creditors can go after the beneficiaries for the money

Be discrete, nothing in writing. Call up your nephew, "Hey, sonny, I know you'd love my big screen TV. Your mom has the keys to the place, I'm here in the hospital. I sure hope I don't get robbed while I am here on my deathbed. I know nothing, tell nobody."

Rinse and repeat.
posted by Meatbomb at 10:29 AM on March 4, 2009


Your dear departeds probably don't need their coffins sealed in concrete—that service should be reserved for the geniuses who implemented these collection policies.

From here:
"When the fortunes of the company declined in 1894, [George] Pullman slashed wages by 25 percent. However, he neglected to lower the rents or cost of groceries in the company town. A delegation of workers went to meet with Pullman and ask him to reduce these costs - the next day, these men were fired....

Pullman was so hated by his employees that when he died in 1897, his heirs feared that the body would be stolen and held for ransom. The coffin was covered in tar paper and asphalt, and enclosed in the center of a room-sized block of concrete, reinforced with railroad ties. Ambrose Bierce said 'It is clear the family in their bereavement was making sure the sonofabitch wasn't going to get up and come back.'"


Railroad ties optional, of course.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 10:44 AM on March 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


"krinklyfig, let's you and me buy GM! I have like fifty bucks."

I'll match you, and then together I think we can be the majority shareholder.
posted by krinklyfig at 10:49 AM on March 4, 2009


"explosion: if you are giving away your estate in order to defraud your creditors, then the creditors can go after the beneficiaries for the money."

Is giving away your estate before death defrauding your creditors?
posted by krinklyfig at 10:53 AM on March 4, 2009


This is happening to someone close to me. His mother died over two years ago. They settled all of her accounts and paid all of her bills, and closed the estate. 18 months later, they get a bill from the hospital. This was not an outstanding bill, it was a new bill. It was some "mistake" they were correcting. He called the hospital, sent a death certificate, and it was supposed to be settled. Instead, they turned it over to collections. And even after explaining she is dead, and that he is not legally responsible, he still gets calls. (I've talked to him about sending a letter re: Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) but he prefers to use caller ID).
posted by kimdog at 11:03 AM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Is giving away your estate before death defrauding your creditors?

Are things you obtain on credit "yours" while the credit is still outstanding? Genuine question, not being snarky. If the new TV is still 2/3 the property of Best Buy and you give it away then kick the bucket, I'd imagine it's still Best Buy's TV, and hence accepting it would make you at least partially party to something hinky. IANAL etc.
posted by Shepherd at 11:10 AM on March 4, 2009


Bank of America actually managed to get some of my fathers debt into my credit report.

Jesus, how the fuck can that happen? I just don't get it. This whole thing is just so depressing.

Who ever coined the phrase "Money is the root of all evil" forgot about BOA and DCM.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 11:20 AM on March 4, 2009


Why limit yourself to relatives? Why not call friends, acquaintances, co-workers, neighbors, etc. They're just as nonliable.

Why even limit yourself to actual debts? If you're not liable, why do they have to exist?

That's the kind of financial innovation that will make the USA #1! (Where larger numbers are better.)
posted by asusu at 11:41 AM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


"I know I couldn't do the work...right now. If things get much worse, though, I just might have to get past the 'inmate working as executioner' feeling and do it."

I'm reminded of the bailiff in Michael Moore's Roger and Me. He was so obviously a kind and respectful man doing the really horrible job of evicting people who'd lost their jobs as courteously and professionally as he could. The men who worked for him were as careful about moving the evictees' belongings as if the items had been their own. It was still extremely painful to watch, let alone do. And that was a legal job that had to be done so the landlords wouldn't lose their properties.

This? Not legal. Doesn't have to be done. The people who do this kind of thing are assholes.
posted by orange swan at 11:59 AM on March 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


Asusu, the Metafilter server owes me $250,000, and, well, I heard it died a while back, and since you so enjoyed using Metafilter, I figured, "why not see if Asusu wants to make things right?"

So, uh, how about it? What can we do to make things right*?

Definitions of "right" may vary, debts may be repaid in US Dollars, Euros, doorknobs or antique spoons. All debts, real and imaginary, are non-negotiable, but may be deniable. Not valid in Delaware or Tennessee, You May Already Be a Winner!™ Patent Pending.
posted by explosion at 12:04 PM on March 4, 2009


Why even limit yourself to actual debts? If you're not liable, why do they have to exist?

Done and done.
posted by dirigibleman at 12:38 PM on March 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


I nth the suggestion of an estate attorney. My mother had a lot of debts, and a lot of collection agencies calling her. The attorney and her staff took care of it all. The only relative who got bothered was my step dad.

I did have one collection agency call *me* to try to collect on a debt racked up my a father's deceased roommate. I kindly told them to 'fuck off' (Hi. I'm not liable for this debt. I'm not related to the deceased, nor do I know how to contact the executor of Herr X's estate. Please do not contact me again.) and they never called back. The rep even apologized for bothering me.
posted by spinifex23 at 12:53 PM on March 4, 2009


Oh, and asusu, this has happened. See my little story above.
posted by spinifex23 at 12:55 PM on March 4, 2009


Hey, I don't see what the problem is. Looting corpses is an old and respected tradition.
posted by steambadger at 1:08 PM on March 4, 2009


orange swan: ...that was a legal job that had to be done so the landlords wouldn't lose their properties. This? Not legal. Doesn't have to be done.
I don't think it's honorable to fool people into paying off debts that they are not responsible for. But I can't see much difference between eviction and this sort of debt collection; both are equally "necessary;" both are done in the interest of profit, and that's all. It's not like lives are at stake in either case. And I don't see any hints that collecting these debts is illegal.

About a year ago, my family was contacted by a collections-specialty law firm looking for payment of an enormous outstanding bill supposedly owed by a dead relative. Straight talking with them, reasoning with them, and showing them the epic paper trail of the years-old billing mistake was no use. They only laid off when we got ourselves a lawyer. The lawyer didn't bother to argue that the money wasn't really owed, because that was extremely obvious to all concerned. He argued that further attempts to collect it would not lead to a profitable outcome.

So to me, these DCM people sound like a step up from the current norm.
posted by Western Infidels at 1:14 PM on March 4, 2009


But I can't see much difference between eviction and this sort of debt collection; both are equally "necessary;" both are done in the interest of profit, and that's all.

Collecting debt from the person who owes it is the same as collecting it by subterfuge from someone else that doesn't owe it?

Yes, subterfuge. Suppose they up front said: you don't owe this, do you want to pay?
posted by asusu at 1:28 PM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


taking a cue from CMjorgson, I think I should spend my free time writing form letters to the public executives of these collection agencys and then follow them up with (just barely non-)threatening phone calls requesting repayment of a debt.
posted by subaruwrx at 1:39 PM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


They offer services like encasing the coffin in cement

In some places this is required by law. The coffin must be placed in the grave in a sealed concrete container. I have no idea why, maybe somebody saw too many zombie movies.


(ot)
The concrete container (aka vault) is required to preserve the cemetery (incidentally it will offer protection for the casket). As the coffin decays, it causes the ground above it to cave in. This makes it difficult to mow the grass and causes tripping hazards to visitors (and employees). When I worked at a cemetery, the dips in the ground were called "coffin slump" but I don't think there's an official term for it.
The vault will not last forever but it will outlast 95% of the caskets available. This is yet another reason to buy the cheapest available coffin if you are going to be interred in the ground. (PS 75% of the time, it is cemetery regulations not actual local law that requires a vault & its part of the sales spiel)
posted by jaimystery at 1:44 PM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


asusu: Collecting debt from the person who owes it is the same as collecting it by subterfuge from someone else that doesn't owe it?
If subterfuge is involved, then no, it's not the same thing. But I didn't see any suggestion in the article that subterfuge is involved.
asusu: Suppose they up front said: you don't owe this, do you want to pay?
The story says they come pretty close:
“Is anyone in the family in a position to pay this?” Ms. Edwards asked, adding: “I’m not telling you it needs to be paid at all.”
I haven't heard these calls myself, of course. But I've heard far more hair-raising things about conventional bill collectors. I'm not trying to excuse anyone here; I'm just saying that in context, this may actually be a step up in some ways.
posted by Western Infidels at 1:55 PM on March 4, 2009




Subterfuge: deceit used in order to achieve one's goal.

Do you normally expect a bank or credit card company to call you about debts you don't owe? If not, then you would assume these people are calling you about a debt that you owe, right? And if you don't stop them, they will let you go on thinking that. And they know that you probably think that.

Deceit: the action or practice of deceiving someone by concealing or misrepresenting the truth.

Yes, they say “Is anyone in the family in a position to pay this?” Ms. Edwards asked, adding: “I’m not telling you it needs to be paid at all.”

But that only comes after there has been push-back in the form of

“She had no will, no finances, nothing,” the daughter said. “Nothing went to probate.” The $200 in the checking account was used for funeral expenses. But the woman also said the family “filed a form with the county,” indicating that perhaps there was a legal estate after all.

And, also from the article:

Scott Weltman of Weltman, Weinberg & Reis, a Cleveland law firm that performs deceased collections, says that if family members ask, “we definitely tell them” they have no legal obligation to pay. “But is it disclosed upfront — ‘Mr. Smith, you definitely don’t owe the money’? It’s not that blunt.”

Such a nice boy! I definitely appreciate when people break the news gently that I don't owe them money. Otherwise it can be quite a shock to the system.

In other words, they won't outright lie. Nice of them (to avoid jail time, I assume). But maybe the reason they won't cut your heart out like a normal collection agency is ... you don't owe them any money!
posted by asusu at 2:40 PM on March 4, 2009


grotesque.
posted by sexyrobot at 2:44 PM on March 4, 2009


Whether or not it's a legitimate debt, estate solicitors and executors are probably going to just pay up, since in many cases they'll lack any information to contest the debt.

No. At least not the solicitors/attorneys. Not if they intend on keeping their license to practice for long. They'll need some proof that the debt is legit before making payments, which is another reason why these companies are going after friends and family instead of the estate.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 2:46 PM on March 4, 2009


As the coffin decays, it causes the ground above it to cave in.

More ancient knowledge lost! If you pile all the dirt you took out to make the hole back onto the coffin, you'll have a mound until the coffin and the dearly departed decay. Then it ought to be pretty flat. Sounds to me like it's the cemetery's convenience that's being protected. If visitors are tripping because the ground of a grave subsided, then they're walking on somebody. I thought that was frowned on; why make it comfortable for them?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:51 PM on March 4, 2009



Personally, when I die, I'd like to be thrown to the orcas at SeaWorld while What a Wonderful World (Louis Armstrong version, of course) plays on the loudspeaker system.


HEEEEEEEY!

Did you steal this from me?

I just told this story a few weeks back. How my friend Mark wanted to put some thing similar in his final wishes of his will. That he wants his corpse tossed into a pen with Polar Bears. For real. So he wrote a letter to a number of zoo organizations on lawyers letterhead. I guess zoos have a pretty strict policy about this sort of thing. And then the animal rights people some how got wind of it and got all upset for some reason. Anyway. Funny story.
posted by tkchrist at 3:16 PM on March 4, 2009


I honestly don't see the problem here. Sometimes, when I'm feeling particularly gregarious and broke, I like to hit up people in the bar for a few drinks. "Listen, mate, I bought three bourbon and cokes for the chick who was sitting on that very stool only last week, so, y'know, hop to it. Gin and tonic, tell the bartender not to finger the lime."
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:24 PM on March 4, 2009


Shepherd wrote: If the new TV is still 2/3 the property of Best Buy and you give it away then kick the bucket, I'd imagine it's still Best Buy's TV

I imagine you've not heard of a concept called unsecured debt?
posted by wierdo at 4:51 PM on March 4, 2009


People really need to stop extending moral concepts that apply to people onto corporations.

The government has gone to some extent to ensure that corporations have human rights. And yes, it's foolish, and feeling a moral obligation to a corporation is positively Orwellian.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:30 PM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Lies of commission, lies of omission. The immoral are having a heyday this decade!
posted by five fresh fish at 5:44 PM on March 4, 2009


If you are shocked at the very idea of funeral homes acting as vultures, then may I suggest you read The American Way of Death. Originally written in 1963 (and a best seller at the time) Jessica Mitford revised it shortly before her death in 1996. Very little had changed.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:34 PM on March 4, 2009


Who ever coined the phrase "Money is the root of all evil" forgot about BOA and DCM.

DCM? Why drag Delhi Cloth Mills into this mess!?
posted by crapmatic at 7:12 PM on March 4, 2009


The funeral industry has some caring, professional members, notably, our very own Cold Chef. When my Mom died, I emailed him with a question, and got an immediate phone call, with good advice, and genuine compassion.

The credit card industry is pretty evil. They've aggressively pushed credit, helped us into a terrible mess, and take no responsibility.

People should pay their debts. But an industry that encourages debt, and charges 24% interest, can suck it up when someone dies with no assets to cover the debt.
posted by theora55 at 8:00 PM on March 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


I feel very sorry for people who have to deal with crappy funeral homes. That's why it's important to put your wishes down on paper before you die. Hear that, all of you people who want Viking funerals? If you want me to put your ass in a boat and set it out to sea aflame...WRITE IT DOWN! I'll never be able to convince your kids it's what you wanted otherwise.

And...for about the millionth time on MetaFilter, I'm not going to be an apologist for the entire funeral industry, but...c'mon. There are shitty people in every industry. Not all of us are vultures.

On preview: thanks, theora55.
posted by ColdChef at 8:56 PM on March 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


And for the record... about 5% of the funeral professionals I've met were sleazeballs. And for an industry with such a bad reputation, that's shockingly low. Get to know your local undertaker! Buy him or her a drink! The stories you'll hear...
posted by ColdChef at 9:03 PM on March 4, 2009


“We do our best to make sure our doctor is paid, because we might need him again. And we want the dead to rest easy, knowing their obligations are taken care of.”

One sided phone conversation:
Uh huh. Uh huh. Yeah. I see your point. Where are you - right now?
posted by Smedleyman at 9:26 PM on March 4, 2009


Get to know your local undertaker! Buy him or her a drink! The stories you'll hear...
For what it's worth, Six Feet Under was one of the best TV series I ever watched.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 11:30 PM on March 4, 2009


I saw this story this morning and was just sick thinking about it. I don't see how it's not illegal. If the people they're calling don't owe the debt, but the script is carefully designed to make it seem as if they do, how is that not a scam.

Unbelievable.
posted by dejah420 at 11:39 PM on March 4, 2009


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