Gas bill from my Dad who died in August 2008

by Gail
(New Jersey)

Hi. My Dad died in August 2008 and it is now 2013 so he has been dead over 5 years and a collection agency sent me a letter saying they contacted me as I was the executor to pay this and there is no way his bill would have been that high as he had a 2 bedroom very small house and no one at all was living there only him until he died in August 2008 so myself and brother and sister would go there just to check things until we sold the house in March 2009 and the money we made off the house which was not much was ours and this collection agency is harrassing me years later to pay 800.00. Are they able to do anything to me because there can be no way that bill should be that high and it is over 5 years and I was not living there? Please let me know. They are harrassing me and gave me 30 days and I know first of all that bill in no way can be that amount and I don't want to be harrassed. Thank you.

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Apr 14, 2013
Gas bill from my Dad who died in August 2008

There a number of things you should know about your situation:

1. When someone dies, that person's assets must go through the probate process or some other state-approved process during which the deceased's executor must formally notify his or her creditors of the death and give them the opportunity to file claims against the deceased's estate, which is simply the assets that the deceased owned at the time of death. I understand from your question, that your father owned a home, at least, when he died.

Creditors who file valid claims are entitled to be paid out of the deceased's assets. Sometimes to do that, the executor must sell some of those assets. Once the executor pays as many valid claims as possible, then the executor is legally entitled to distribute any assets that may remain in the deceased's estate to his or her beneficiaries.

All of this means that if your father did in fact owe money to the gas company when he died, his executor should have notified the company of his death so that the company could submit a claim to be paid. Based on the information in your question, it appears that none of this happened.

2. Now that you are being contacted by a debt collection agency about your father's gas company debt, I recommend that you ask the agency to provide you with proof that your father did in fact owe that money. You can make this request over the phone, but you should also follow up in writing. The FDCPA entitles you to written proof of the debt if you ask for it in writing.

3. If your father did in fact owe $800 to the gas company at his death, it is possible that since the company did not have the opportunity to get paid by the executor out of your father's estate before his assets were distributed, the gas company (or the collection agency) may have a legal right to sue you and your siblings for the $800. If it does, and you want to avoid a lawsuit, then you and your siblings should pay the debt because you took possession of your father's assets before his debts were paid.

4. Ordinarily however, the relatives of a deceased person are not legally obligated to pay the deceased's unpaid debts after as many of the deceased debts are paid during the probate process or some other state approved process.

If you need additional information about this matter, I recommend you schedule an appointment with a probate law attorney in your area.

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