DoNotPay’s guide to paying utility bills after the death of a loved one
The administration is one aspect of death that’s often overlooked and disconcerting for those who are left behind. When someone dies, what happens to their debts and bills? If you were close with the deceased person, you will be in mourning and going through lots of emotional pain, but it’s important that you understand how to manage any of their outstanding financial obligations. Based on the data collected by credit bureau Experian, a study from Credit.com revealed that nearly three-quarters of Americans leave outstanding debt when they die, including unpaid bills. According to the study, the total average amount of debt when a person dies is a staggering $61,554, with nearly half of the total amount being unpaid student debt:
|Category/Type of debt||Amount of debt during the time of death|
|Credit Card Debt||$4,531|
DoNotPay can help you with paying the bills after someone’s death
We know how stressful it is when your loved one passes away, and you’re left to grapple with legalities, bills, and other tiresome administrative work while also trying to process your loss. DoNotPay can help with your utility bills management during this trying period in your life. Follow the steps, as outlined below:
- Log in to the app through your web browser or your iOS device
- Scroll down and choose the option Corona Relief by clicking on “Get protected”
- Let us know what you need help with (in this case, select Other bills)
- Inform our chatbot what you need, like waiving your late fee or extending your payment due date
- Provide answers to a few personal questions our chatbot will ask you
All the information that we require from you in order to be able to help is:
- Your name
- Your residential address
- Your email address
- The reason why you’re struggling to pay the utility bills
As soon as DoNotPay collects sufficient information to create the required document, we will present you with the most suitable solution to manage the deceased person’s utility bills.
Key legal matters to take care of after somebody’s death
Trying to sort out the unresolved affairs of someone who died can be a stressful endeavor, but a solid legal framework set in place ensures the late person’s assets are distributed fairly among the beneficiaries. In the same vein, all outstanding bills and debts will be paid off to the creditors if possible. If the late person chose you as an executor of their will, it is your responsibility to carry out their wishes and cover any pending dues they left behind.
If you’re not sure what probate is, it’s defined as a legal process supervised by the court, which entails authenticating the departed person’s last will and testament (providing they left one). First, the court will appoint experts that will estimate the value of the estate. After any remaining debts have been paid off to the creditors by the sale of the estate, the court will distribute the remainder of the late person’s assets to the beneficiaries.
In that context, what happens to a person’s utilities such as gas, water, electricity, and garbage disposal after their death? Utility bills should be paid, even if the probate process is not yet over. In fact, utility bills and other administrative expenses (such as property taxes and storage fees) must be kept current until the estate is sold or inherited by the rightful beneficiaries. Until then, the beneficiaries should pay for the utility bills. If they are paying for the bills out of their own pockets, it’s a good idea to keep a detailed track of all the expenses. Later, after the estate has been sold, the executor of the will can use those funds to reimburse the individuals for their expenses.
Finding out who is responsible for paying the bills
As the first step, you should establish who is the executor of the will as this person will also be in charge of paying the utility bills of the deceased person. If the person didn’t leave a will or appoint an executor, the state will appoint someone to act as executor (that’s usually a spouse or next-of-kin).
Americans dying without leaving a will seems to be on the rise—only 44% of surveyed participants in a 2016 Gallup poll said that they had a will that describes how they would like their money and estate handled after their death. In the rare case when no executors or heirs can be found, any potential money left will go directly to the creditors. Anything that remains after that will be absorbed by the state.
Where does the money to pay the utility bills come from?
If the person who died left an estate, which is essentially a set of their personal possessions, including their house, car, savings, etc., the payment of all their bills and any potential debts will come out of that estate. In principle, their assets become liable for the payment of any outstanding bills and debts. This is the case only if they were the sole owner of the assets—if someone still alive co-owns their estate, the executor will be unable to sell any of these assets in order to pay off the late person’s bills. In such instances, the co-owner becomes responsible for paying them.
Matters are equally straightforward if the deceased had life insurance. If they named a beneficiary, the amount that has remained will be used to cover the unpaid bills. In some cases, a mortgage or other debts may have a life insurance policy annexed to it, stating that the house (or some other asset) will be paid off by the insurance company if the debtor passes away before the debt is paid off.
If the person didn’t leave an estate or had life insurance, but somebody co-signed their bills, they will be responsible for paying them.
What if there’s not enough money in the estate to settle the bills?
What happens if the deceased person didn’t leave enough money to cover their debts? When the amount of debt exceeds the value of their possessions, their estate is considered to be insolvent. With utility bills, which are in the eyes of the law classified as unsecured debt, the lender (or, in this case, the service provider company) cannot legally enforce the payment if the estate is insolvent. In practice, this means that if there is no money to cover the pending utility bills, they will likely go unpaid.
The same is true for credit card debt, which also falls under the unsecured debt category. The credit card debt will be written off if there are no sufficient funds in the estate. Be aware that this doesn’t apply when the bank account associated with the credit card has a joint account holder. In this case, that person becomes the sole account holder responsible for paying off the debt.
How to stop the utility bills if they are no longer being used?
Assuming that nobody will continue living on the late person’s property, the utility bills should be canceled. This can prove to be trickier than what you think because most companies are wary of fraud attempts and fake death reports. While some providers will request details like the name of the departed, their date of death, and their social security number, others will demand a death certificate as well. Get in touch with each of these service providers (phone, water, electricity, gas, garbage disposal, and potentially others) individually, and request a termination of the service due to the principal user’s death. As a side note, it’s possible that the utilities were bundled with the rent. If this is the case, check out the terms of the lease and discuss the best possible solution with the landlord.
Transfering the names on the bills if the utilities will keep being used
If you inherited the home of the departed person and you decided to move there, your first course of action should be to take over their utility bills and change the name on them. Should you prefer to stay with all current providers, the process is actually simple:
- Reach out to the utility provider. It’s easiest and quickest to do this over the phone.
- Prepare the necessary documents that can prove your identity, like your driver’s license.
- Have your credit history and proof of employment handy, too.
- Once you’ve provided all the necessary personal information, choose a date when you wish for the utilities to be transferred on to you.
Bear in mind that now is a good opportunity to cancel certain services or change to a preferred provider, when that’s a possibility. DoNotPay can be a fantastic resource if you’re looking to cancel services and subscriptions in the most convenient manner possible.
Check the utility bills for errors
Mistakes on utility bills occur more often than what you’d expect. Let’s take a look at the most common ones:
|Classification||Does your bill charge fall in the correct category: residential, commercial, or industrial?|
|Meter reading errors||Check the number on your bill against the number on your meter, because discrepancies happen a lot.|
|Atypical billing period||Check for billing periods that deviate from the standard period (usually one month).|
|Atypical usage||If you notice a sudden surge in usage, something may have gone wrong, like a leak or faulty appliances.|
|Incorrect applications of tariffs||Look out for incorrect applications of various taxes, such as federal tax, city tax, county tax, state tax, etc.|
|Late fees||This is a common mistake that companies make, so check that it’s actually true before paying.|
|Gaps in billing dates||Ensure that there is no gap or overlap of dates of the billing period.|
It’s always a good suggestion to thoroughly check your bills for mistakes, be it yours, or of a deceased person whose bills you are in charge of.
What happens if you don’t pay the deceased person’s debts?
That depends. Debts which are in the name of the departed person can only be paid out of the value of the estate. If the debts exceed the value of the estate, they will most likely get written off partially or entirely. If the value of the assets isn’t enough to cover the unresolved debt, the most important ones are prioritized—but unsecured debts such as utility bills are usually at the bottom of that list. It’s best practice to research your state’s priority laws when paying off the debts, as the rules may vary across the U.S.
Exceptions in community property states
Usually, creditors aren’t allowed to ask a surviving spouse or relative to pay off these debts from their own money unless they co-signed on such debts or bills. There is a major exception to this rule, and it refers to the so-called community property states. According to the law in such states, the surviving spouse may be required to use community property to pay the debts of the late spouse. The way the law sees it in community property states, the debts that were obtained by one spouse for the benefit of the family are considered to be the property of the family. The surviving spouse is, therefore, responsible for paying back those debts.
These states are:
- Alaska (if a special agreement is signed)
- New Mexico
What happens if you don’t pay the deceased person’s utility bills?
When it comes to utility bills specifically, they are categorized as unsecured debts, meaning that they are not secured against any assets. Creditors trying to reclaim a debt cannot take these from you if you’re unable to pay off the debt. In other words, if the estate is considered insolvent, the creditors are generally out of luck.
Ask for an extension date for the deceased person’s utility bills
If you can already tell that you will not be able to pay for the utility bills of the late person in time, you should be proactive about it and request an extension. The good thing in the bad situation is that, due to the extraordinary circumstances and economic fallout caused by the coronavirus pandemic, many service providers are taking a more lenient approach with regards to payments. Get in touch with your gas/electricity/water/garbage removal provider and learn about possible ways to submit a late fee extension request. This could include:
- A phone call to customer service
- A written letter
- An email
- A visit in person
- A request through a lawyer or financial advisor
A more convenient way to buy yourself more time and request an extension is with the help of our app DoNotPay, which has been dubbed as the world’s first robot lawyer. Let us do the heavy lifting, and choose Corona Relief on the DoNotPay app homepage. Our chatbot will guide you through a series of questions that we need you to answer in order to create the extension request for you. Your extension date request will be complete to the highest standards in just a few minutes.
Submit a request for a late fee waiver for the deceased’s utility bills
Life can get hectic even in the best of times. When someone you knew dies, it can be hard to find your feet again. If you’ve missed a payment on their utility bills and would like to ask the service provider to discharge the late fees, you can submit your request through one of the following:
- Phone call
- In-person visit
- Lawyer request
You will not find an easier (and quicker) way to ask for a fee waiver than through DoNotPay’s robot lawyer service. Simply click on the Corona Relief option on the DoNotPay’s homepage, and we’ll take the lead from there. You have enough on your plate as it is, so why not delegate the tedious administrative work to us?
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