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¡No Se Deje!
Not Knowing Your Rights Can Be Costly
State and Federal agencies have reported an increase in complaints about abusive debt collection tactics. There are many Federal and California laws to protect debtors from improper and unlawful collection practices. Legal and financial experts believe that the increase in abusive debt collection activity could be the result of the extremely weak and troubled economic conditions in the country.
Aggressive bill collectors often take advantage of people that do not know the law or their rights. They deliberately mislead them into believing that they owe money when they do not. One of the most common and most disgraceful scams is to try to get relatives of recently deceased people to pay their dead relative’s debts. People that pass away frequently leave unpaid bills including credit cards, personal loans, medical bills or department store bills.
In states like California that have community property laws, surviving spouses sometimes do have a legal obligation to pay joint bills. But this does not apply to other relatives or friends. Nonetheless, unscrupulous bill collectors sometimes tell other relatives, and even unrelated cotenants, that they have to pay the bills of the deceased. Close relatives such as adult children, siblings and cotenants often feel morally obligated to pay the claimed debt as a symbol of respect for the decedent. This is precisely why these collection methods are UNSCRUPULOUS. The real moral obligation is to respect the privacy and legal rights of grieving relatives and not exploit their emotional vulnerability by pressuring them to pay a debt that they have no legal obligation to pay.
Unless you have also signed a contract or credit card agreement or other agreement to pay a debt, YOU DO NOT HAVE A LEGAL OBLIGATION TO PAY the bills of a deceased friend, cotenant or relative (except for a spouse in some circumstances). In fact, even if you have received money from the decedent under a will, you have no obligation to pay his debts. And, even if you received money as the beneficiary of a life insurance policy for the death, you do not have to pay the decedent’s bills.
Abusive bill collectors typically contact their victims by telephone so that there will not be a record of their false statements and threats. If you are told by a bill collector that you must pay the debts of someone that died, insist that they send their claim to you in writing. They will usually refuse to do so. If they do send it, always consult with an attorney to discuss your rights. The law does allow victims of illegal collection practices to sue for money. And the law can even obligate collectors that violate collection laws to pay your attorneys fees. Know your rights and assert them with confidence. When in doubt consult an attorney before you agree to pay anything. Even legitimate debts can sometimes be legally discharged or otherwise avoided. ¡NO SE DEJE! ®
Jess J. Araujo, Esq.