Collecting Debts from the Dead

According to a story in today’s New York Times, agencies collecting for credit cards, banks, and other lenders are now targeting dead people–who, it turns out, are more likely than living people to pay off their debts.

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.

According to the story, some survivors are paying their loved ones’ bills even when they are not obligated to do so:

For some relatives, paying is pragmatic. The law varies from state to state, but generally survivors are not required to pay a dead relative’s bills from their own assets. In theory, however, collection agencies could go after any property inherited from the deceased.

But sentiment also plays a large role, the agencies say. Some relatives are loyal to the credit card or bank in question. Some feel a strong sense of morality, that all debts should be paid. Most of all, people feel they are honoring the wishes of their loved ones.

In other words, the bereaved are a soft touch–which is surely why these collectors are going after them in the first place.

Speaking for myself, I would want to make sure any debts to individuals and small businesses were paid after my death. But credit card bills, from big banks? Since I’ve contributed to the taxpayer funds that have gone to bail them out, I think I’ll consider those debts paid.

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