There is a New York Times story running on Huffington Post Wednesday about debt collectors attempting to collect debts from dead people.
I had a situation that takes it one step further. A collector for MBNA claimed to have talked to my dead mother about her debt.
All of the details, including the letter from the debt collector and a copy of her death certificate, are here.
Once I wrote the column and our probate attorney filed an objection, MBNA withdrew the claims but the average consumer does not have access to an expensive attorney or have a son who is a nationally syndicated financial columnist.
Thus, we need to change the law so that everyone is protected.
Here is the story about mom:
MBNA claims to have talked to my dead mother
"I'll be coming home, wait for me"
-Righteous Brothers, Unchained Melody, (theme from the movie, Ghost)
My mother allegedly died on April 2, 2006. I say allegedly because a collector representing MBNA said he talked to her on June 21st.
Until I saw a letter from Dale Lamb, I felt pretty certain my mother was dead.
I viewed her lifeless body at the hospital. A funeral director, who I have known since the second grade, gave me an urn that supposedly contained her ashes. I have a death certificate from the state of Kentucky.
Despite all that, Lamb claims to have talked to her on June 21st.
Thanks to MBNA and their collector -- the ironically named, True Logic Financial Corporation -- mom is now in a category with Elvis Presley, Kurt Cobain, and Jim Morrison. She has been deemed alive despite tremendous evidence to the contrary.
Mom would love being associated with Elvis but would not have been wild about being categorized with Kurt and Jim.
It seems almost comical, but I was really angry. My mother died without warning, and I miss her. If MBNA's collector is able to talk to her, I wish he would give me her number.
The story of my mom and MBNA is an example why credit card companies need more regulation.
I was named administrator of mom's estate after she supposedly died. I then received a letter from a company called Mann Bracken, saying MBNA had obtained an arbitration award against mom.
No one in my family knew anything about a debt to MBNA or seen notice of an arbitration hearing. Mom was supposedly dead, so we could not ask her.
I hired a lawyer to contact Mann Bracken to give us some verification of the alleged debt and arbitration award. Two months went by with no response. The attorney followed up again but Mann Bracken never got back to us.
Instead of responding to my attorney, MBNA shifted the alleged debt to True Logic. The True Logic people didn't claim that MBNA actually had an arbitration award -- only that they might get one.
Taking MBNA and True Logic at their word, I'm curious as to what mom said to Mr. Lamb. I hope they have a tape recording. Mom was known to use salty language, and I'm sure Mr. Lamb would have heard some.
I'm not as prone to foul language, but if MBNA calls me, I am going to make an exception.
After True Logic sent the letter for MBNA, I once again hired an attorney, and once again he sent a letter denying the alleged debt. Once again, we have not had a response.
If MBNA wants to sue, I am not sure if they will go after the estate or have mom declared "un-dead" since they are having conversations with her. I'm not sure how to proceed if mom orally agrees to a payment plan. A judge will have to figure all that out.
The whole incident has made me wonder how often MBNA ignores the legal right of creditors to verify a debt. They have one collector send a letter, ignore the response and then have another collector try again.
I suspect that collectors can sometimes convince an unsuspecting family or estate to pay money.
The first letter from MBNA claiming that they had actually obtained an arbitration award sounded serious. It was enough for me to hire a lawyer. The only follow up I received from MBNA was the letter from Mr. Lamb saying he spoke to a woman who is legally dead.
On the other hand, it could be that Lamb did talk to mom. One of her favorite movies was Ghost. Mom may not be able to communicate with me, but Lamb might be a real-life version of the psychic that Whoopi Goldberg portrayed in the movie. By talking to Lamb, Mom may be sending a signal that she wants MBNA put up or shut up.
Mom is one you never wanted to mess with. Allegedly dead or allegedly alive.
Don McNay, CLU, ChFC, MSFS, CSSC is the Founder of McNay Settlement Group in Richmond, Kentucky, where we work with clients who are currently living. Don is an award winning, syndicated, financial columnist and the author of Son of Son of A Gambler: Winners, Losers and What to Do When You Win the Lottery. Don is Treasurer for the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.