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Know your rights: No need to file a living will

July 9, 2011 at 2:09 a.m.


By Richard Alderman

I want to fill out a living will, directing that I not be kept alive by life-support. A friend gave me the form. Where do I file it?

As you seem to know, a living will, formally called an "Advanced Directive," is the document you complete if you do not want to kept alive by artificial means once you are found to be terminally ill. The document must be signed and witnessed by two people, but it does not have to filed. The document should be give to your physician or hospital when you undergo treatment. You also should prepare a second document and give it is to a close family member or friend. In the event you cannot give a directive to your physician, your friend or family member can insure your wishes are followed. If you would like a free copy of a living will, visit my website, www.peopleslawyer.net

I got a call from a debt collector about a 15-year-old debt I can't even remember. I am not even sure I owe this company any money. The debt collector threatened to sue and put this on my credit report unless I pay. What can I do about this matter?

Unfortunately, you are not alone in being harassed about a very "stale" debt. There is a whole new industry devoted to trying to collect debts that are very old. The good news is that the law provides significant relief and protection.

First, if the debt is 15 years old, it is too late to sue or place it on your credit report. In Texas, lawsuits for debts generally must be filed within four years of when you stop paying. If you are sued, you have a defense based on what is called the "statute of limitations." In fact, threatening or suing you for a debt barred by this statute violates the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the federal debt collection law. Also under federal law, adverse information stays on your credit report only for seven years. After the seven years the information cannot be placed back on your report, and it is not a new debt simply because a different company is trying to collect.

In my opinion, the debt collector is just trying to scare you into paying a debt you may not even owe. I suggest you reply with a certified letter disputing the existence of the debt, demanding proof that you in fact owe the money. The law requires the debt collector to then verify the debt, and stop collection efforts if it cannot. If the debt collector does sue, be sure to speak with an attorney about defending the lawsuit and counterclaiming for damages under Texas and federal debt collection laws. Finally, the law gives you the right to stop all further communication by sending the collector a letter demanding that it stop.

One of my brothers has lived with our mother for about a year. He pays her a small amount each month to help with expenses for living there. Things are not working out, and my mother wants him out. Can she just throw him out?

In my opinion, your brother has become a tenant, and your mother is his landlord. This means that she must give him proper notice to vacate, and has no legal right to just throw him out. I suggest she give him 30 days written notice to leave. If he still does not leave, she can file a "forcible entry and detainer" action in justice court to have him evicted.

I pay my rent in cash each month, but never get a receipt. Does my landlord have to give me a receipt?

Yes. If you pay cash the law requires the landlord to provide you with a receipt for payment.

Richard Alderman, a consumer advocate popularly known as "the People's Lawyer," is a professor at the University of Houston Law School in Houston. His column appears weekly in the Victoria Advocate. Write to him at UH Law Center, Houston, Texas 77204-6391. He also maintains a Web page at www.peopleslawyer.net.

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