Ask the creditor for documentation. Was the survivor or child a co-borrower or guarantor on the debt? If so, they must make the payments. If not, or if the creditor cannot produce documentation of who is responsible, then don't pay. In that case, only the deceased's estate would be responsible for the debt.
Is there a probate estate?
If the deceased didn't own any property in their own name, and there is no probate estate, then many creditors have nowhere to file a claim in order to be paid. So, if the deceased was solely responsible for the debt, and all the property owned by the deceased was in joint and survivorship form, or was payable to a designated beneficiary, then there may be no need to pay the debt.
Don't fall for strong arm or sympathy tactics.
Debt collectors are training their employees to prey on the loyalty or morality of survivors, even when they aren't legally responsible for the debt. They are good listeners, are empathetic, use anger deflecting phrases, and try to convince the survivor to pay. Don't be afraid to ask them the ultimate question: "Am I legally responsible to pay this?" If they stammer or don't want to respond, you probably aren't.
Be on the alert for phony debt collectors.
This is just a scam. These con artists check out the local obituaries in the paper, then call loved ones shortly after a death. They refer to a "large debt" owed by the deceased, request immediate payment, and threaten "further action." They don't name a specific collection agency or firm, don't give out information about the debt itself, and try to pressure the loved ones into divulging personal information. Don't be caught with your guard down when you are grieving.
Ask for help if you need it.
If you still have questions, or need help fending off creditors, call an attorney. If you receive persistent calls from one of the "phony" debt collectors, you can also call your state attorney general's consumer hotline.
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