Dear ABC News Fixer: My mother passed away Jan. 31, and her bank was charging overdraft fees and overdrawn fees on her account since earlier that month. Now the account balance is $118 below zero.
The situation worsened when her Social Security direct deposit for February went in and then the government took the funds back out upon being notified of her passing.
I called the bank and someone said I needed to bring them a death certificate and a surrogate certificate so they could do something about the account. This will require going before a judge.
The account is in her name only. I thought they would close the account automatically after I emailed them regarding my mom's passing. Can they make me pay any of those fees?
- Humberto Penaherrera, Whiting, N.J.
Dear Humberto: First, our condolences on the passing of your mother.
You told the ABC News Fixer that as your mom became increasingly ill, you tried to help her with her finances, including her account at Sun National Bank. At some point, you made a $1.25 error, which triggered the first set of fees, totaling $48.
From there, you said, things snowballed. Your mom died on the last day of January, so February's Social Security check still went into her account. The check was pulled out when the government was informed of her death, and more bank fees piled on.
You didn't want this hanging over your head, this $118 problem which started with a $1.25 math error.
And it turns out it shouldn't be your problem, because your name wasn't on your mom's account (nor did you have power of attorney). Under the law, children can't be responsible for their parents' debts unless they co-signed a loan or jointly held an account.
We got in touch with Sun National Bank spokeswoman Heather Hardwick, who offered to find someone to look into it. That did the trick, because the local branch manager soon contacted you with the good news that they were reversing all the charges and closing the account. You told us this has "lifted a weight from [your] shoulders."
For others in the same boat: Remember -- parental debt doesn't get passed down to children, unless, as stated above, their names were officially on an account. Those debts are supposed to get paid from the parent's estate, with secured debt such as a house or car loan and tax liens getting paid first, typically followed by funeral expenses and their last medical bills.
Unsecured debt, like credit card bills, sometimes doesn't get paid at all, if the person died without leaving enough money.
Got a consumer problem? The ABC News Fixer may be able to help. Click here to submit your problem online. Letters are edited for length and clarity.