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You still owe money after account is "written off

By By Richard Alderman
March 31, 2012 at midnight
Updated March 30, 2012 at 10:31 p.m.


I had a credit card account that was written-off several years ago. I have now received a letter from a debt collector stating that if I don't pay, I will be sued. How do I owe any money if the account was written-off? Should I just ignore this?

Basically, when an account is written-off by a creditor, the creditor has made the decision not to take any further efforts to collect. It does not mean, however, that you no longer owe the money. In fact, the account is often transferred to a debt collector who will continue collection efforts.

The debt collector can request payment and can file a lawsuit, assuming that the time is within what is called the "statute of limitations." In Texas, the limitations period for filing a lawsuit for a credit card debt is four years from when the account went into default.

If it has been more than four years since you defaulted, the debt collector's threat to file suit probably violates federal debt collection law. If it has not been more than four years, they have the right to sue if you do not work out a payment plan.

I suggest you try to work out a payment plan you can live with, and do not ignore any legal papers you receive. If you do, a judgment will be entered against you for the full amount they request.

My checkbook was stolen during a break-in of my home. I called the bank and it said that because I didn't have any checks outstanding I should just close the account. A collection agency is now asking me to pay some of the checks the thief wrote that bounced. Do I have any liability?

If your checks were stolen and your signature was forged, you have no liability on the checks. A forged signature does not impose any liability on the person whose signature was forged.

In fact, under the law, the thief's forgery of your name actually operates as his signature and he is the one from whom the collection agency should be trying to collect. I suggest you contact the collection agency, in writing, by certified mail, and let them know the situation.

If you have filed a claim with the police, include the case number. Also, demand that the collection agency stop all further communication. Under federal law, they must then stop calling you.

I have a power of attorney for my 87-year-old mother. The nursing home where she is staying has started sending her bills directly to me. Am I responsible for her debts because of the power of attorney?

If they are sending you her bills to pay on her behalf, you should not be concerned. On the other hand, if they are sending bills to you for her obligations, you need to make it clear that you are not a responsible party.

The power of attorney gives you the right to sign documents and act on behalf of your mother. It does not impose any liability upon you for her debts. For you to be responsible to the nursing home, you must agree to pay. Unless you have signed something or otherwise agreed to pay her bills, you have no liability.

My ex has stopped paying child support. Is it true that someone who doesn't pay his child support may lose his driver's license? Do I need an attorney?

Under the law, a court has the right to suspend any professional license, including a driver's license, of a person who does not pay child support as ordered. In fact, a court may even throw the person in jail. I suggest you contact the Child Support Division of the Attorney General's office, which can help you enforce your support order.

How do I get a copy of a living will? Does it have to be notarized to be valid? What does it cost?

For a free copy of a living will, just go to my website below and click on "Wills, living wills and powers of attorney," section under Legal Topics. A living will, formally called a "Directive to Physicians," does not have to be notarized, but must be signed by two witnesses. You may make several originals and give them to a number of people to insure that it will be available when needed. For example, you can give one to a family member, one to your physician and one to a close friend.

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 peopleslawyer.net.

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