Fact Check

Bank Charges from the Dead

Rumor: A bank attempted to collect credit card service charges from a dead customer.

Published Oct 4, 2003


Claim:   A bank attempted to collect credit card service charges from dead customer.


Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 2003]

If you have ever had to deal with a major corporation's customer service then you will really appreciate this.

My aunt died this past January. Citi Bank billed her for February and March for their monthly service charge on her credit card, and then added late fees and interest on the monthly charge. The balance had been $0.00, now was somewhere around $60.00)

I placed the following phone call to CitiBank:

Me: "I am calling to tell you that she died in January."

CitiBank: "The account was never closed and the late fees and charges still apply."

Me: "Maybe, you should turn it over to collections."

CitiBank: "Since it is two months past due, it already has been."

Me: "So, what will they do when they find out she is dead?"

CitiBank: "Either report her account to the frauds division, or report her to the credit bureau ... maybe both!"

Me: "Do you think God will be mad at her?"

CitiBank: "Excuse me?"

Me: "Did you just get what I was telling you ... the part about her being dead?"

CitiBank: "Sir, you'll have to speak to my supervisor!"

(Supervisor gets on the phone)

Me: "I'm calling to tell you she died in January."

CitiBank: "The account was never closed and the late fees and charges still apply."

Me: "You mean you want to collect from her estate?"

CitiBank: (stammer) "Are you her lawyer?"

Me: "No, I'm her great nephew." (Lawyer info given.)

CitiBank: "Could you fax us a certificate of death?"

Me: "Sure." (Fax number is given)

(After they get the fax.)

CitiBank: "Our system just isn't set up for death."

Me: "Oh ..."

CitiBank: "I don't know what more I can do to help."

Me: "Well, if you figure it out, great! If not, you could just keep billing her, I suppose. I don't really think she will care."

CitiBank: "Well, the late fees and charges do still apply."

Me: "Would you like her new billing address?"

CitiBank: "That might help."

Me: (Odessa Memorial Cemetery #345 Hwy 129, and plot number 744 given.)

CitiBank: "Sir, that's a cemetery!"

Me: "What do you do with dead people on your planet?!!"


Origins:   We don't know if this is a legitimate and accurate transcript of someone's conversation with Citibank (it seems a bit absurd that a major financial institution and credit card issuer would claim they were not "set up" to accommodate the inevitable circumstance that their customers will eventually die), but the premise of this tale might not be so ridiculous as it's made to seem here.

Credit card companies don't generally send an account to collection (i.e., close the account and turn over collection efforts to an outside agency) after a mere 60 days of past due status, especially when no charges (other than in-house service charges) have been placed on the card. They might certainly make inquiries and

payment requests via phone or mail, but turning an account over to collection is typically a last resort when all other efforts have failed and the creditor has given up — which usually happens when an account is more than 90 days in arrears. A credit card company that automatically sent every account with a 60 day past due status to collection would be regularly losing a good deal of its customer base.

So, we suspect that if the message quoted above does describe a real incident, then either some legitimate charges had been placed on the card by the cardholder prior to her death, or the account had been left in limbo for much longer than two months. In the former case, the creditor has a right to try to collect those monies from the deceased's estate (previous debts are not automatically discharged with the death of the debtor); in the latter case, it is up to a responsible agent (usually the executor of the decedent's estate) to inform other parties of the death, settle any outstanding obligations, and terminate existing arrangements for continuing services. To the executor falls the job, as part of the notification process, of informing creditors as to where all further correspondence should be directed, including the final bill. Therefore, the funny conclusion of the e-mailed piece about the dead aunt's new address being the cemetery plot where she's interred is hyperbole, something thrown in to give the story an ending. Creditors have no interest in knowing where the body is, but they do have a vested interest in knowing where to direct their final accounting for payment. Indeed, they have a right to this information.

It's unlikely a credit card company would go to much effort (beyond a phone call or two) to try to recoup $60 in unpaid charges from the estate of a deceased customer, but they might very well have a legal right to do so.

Last updated:   20 April 2015




David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.