Collecting the Debts of the Dead, An Insider’s Story

September 25, 2014

Vox carry the story of Danielle Kurtzleben’s experience collecting debts from the families of the recently deceased here. The story illustrates one of the most outrageous practices in debt collection: contacting bereaved families and asking them to pay their loved one’s debts, even though those debts are not legally enforceable.

Personal debts are personal: they die with the debtor, and can be collected, if at all, only from that person’s estate. While much of Kurtzleben’s script as a collector was concerned with finding the details of that estate in order to make a claim against it, she also reports that the collection company script asked “How is the family planning to resolve this debt?”  Of course, the family was not obliged to pay the debt. Kurtzleben says that they only disclosed that the debts were not legally owed “if they asked.”

The industry claims that all this has changed it has changed. Kurtzleben notes that any changes has been driven by increased regulation and bad press:

Increased regulation, says our unnamed collector, led his firm to change its ways. But he adds that bad press has increased the pressure on her[sic] firm and her[sic] firm’s clients to be much more careful.