Honest Funerals

Avoiding Scams

It is sad to think that there are people out there who will try to take advantage of you at this most emotional time. The following are some common scams directed against families who have lost loved ones as well as suggestions for how to avoid becoming a victim.

Persons claiming that your loved one owed them money:

This can take the form of people calling you on the phone, writing you letters and most disturbingly showing up at your home, the wake or funeral claiming that your loved one owed them money. NEVER pay such claims without insisting on proper proof. Even if it is a friend or business associate of your loved one, insist they provide you with written proof of the debt.

New York recognizes “oral contracts” as long as they do not involve real estate and could be performed within a year from the time of the contract. It will be difficult for someone claiming a debt to prove an “oral contract.” That is because New York has an evidentiary rule that stops people claiming a debt from a deceased person to testify regarding oral contracts.

Of course, if the creditor is a family member or somebody that you know and trust, use your own judgment in deciding whether or not there was a debt.

Steps to avoid this scam:

  • Never give out personal information about you or your loved one.
  • Do not listen to anyone who tells you that you are responsible for a loved one’s debt. You are generally not responsible for debts of a deceased person unless you agreed to be responsible (such as a joint loan or credit card) with some exceptions for work done on your home or a surviving spouse or parents of minor children for necessities. When in doubt speak with a lawyer.
  • Be very careful of anyone who tries to tell you they have to be paid right away. Unless you fit within one of the above exceptions, all creditors must make a claim against the estate, not against you personally. If your loved one had little or no estate, there would never be a reason for you to pay the debt other than family or friendship obligation.
  • Anytime someone you don’t know calls you on the phone or writes to you about a claimed debt, insist they give you their full information (name, name of company, address, name of claimed creditor) before you speak with them at all.

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If your loved one died in an accident or from medical malpractice or had a large estate, there is a good chance that lawyers or others on their behalf will hound you. It is illegal for lawyers to contact you directly or through someone else. You must contact the lawyer, not the other way around.

Attorneys, hospital workers and funeral directors have been arrested for providing personal information about patients to lawyers who use the information to contact patients directly. If you are contacted by a lawyer or by a lawyer’s “investigator”, tell them not to contact you again and find a different lawyer. Be very suspicious if the lawyer or investigator tells you that your doctor or someone else told them to contact you. Check with that person before speaking with the lawyer.

At a hospital or funeral home you may have a bunch of nurses, doctors, technicians or just plain strangers handing you lawyer business cards.  Ask the person why they are recommending the attorney. Does the lawyer pay them if you use that lawyer (which is illegal)? Is the lawyer just their friend or relative? Have they actually had a case with that lawyer or did they just hear that the lawyer was good? Make sure you can trust the recommendation and even then take the time to make sure the attorney is right for you and your case.

Be very suspicious of anyone making guarantees or bold promises. Lawyer fees on significant accident or malpractice cases can be quite large. It is only human nature that some people will say or promise anything in order to get your case. This can include promises of a specific amount, claims that they can get a green card or that they are “connected” or have an “in” with a judge or insurance company.

The easiest way to avoid unethical attorneys or their “runners” is to politely take their information and let them know that you’ll talk to your family before making a decision.   Resist their requests for your personal information such as address, telephone number, email address, date of birth or social security number. The more they pressure you for such information, the more you should avoid them. Click on the following link for a more complete guide on how to hire an attorney.


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