May
22

Roy: 74, Bankrupt, & It Isn’t His Debt

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Gavel in CourtRoy’s birthday is next week, and instead of spending the day with a fishing pole and a camp chair on the creek bank, he’ll be in federal bankruptcy court. The day of his hearing, Roy will drive two hours from his home into the city, alone.

Roy really doesn’t understand all the fine print on the paperwork, or the lawyer-speak. Roy really doesn’t have a clue how he hit financial rock bottom so quickly after the death of his wife.

What Roy does understand is that in order to keep his home, he must declare bankruptcy and stop any action that could be taken against him on a recent court judgment.

Roy and June were married 55 years. Roy did not handle the finances in the marriage. June did. June passed away after a very short illness, and suddenly Roy was on his own when it came to his money and the bills. If you ask him, Roy can’t tell you the name of his insurance agent.

Gene, Roy’s son, had been helping his mother balance her checking account at times during the previous year. Gene had on-line access to the account, and after having his name added, it was easy for Gene to step in and start paying the bills for his father.  Roy lucked out there.

What Gene wasn’t prepared for was the large stack of paper he found in the old desk in his parent’s living room. Past due credit card bills, collection notices, letters from lawyers, past-due medical bills – there was a lot to sort through,and it took Gene days.

The final picture that emerged was not pretty. Roy owed approximately $20,000 in non-secured debt, in addition to his home mortgage. Of the $20,000 in non-secured debt, $1500 were medical bills in Roy’s name. The remaining debt did not belong to Roy, but it was in his name – and he was getting sued for most of it.

June had taken out credit cards in Roy’s name and given them to her son, Tom, with a promise from Tom that he’d pay the bills. Tom quickly maxed out the cards – and left his mother holding the bag. Tom’s wife bought a bunch of new appliances, and bought Roy a chair, all on credit. When she didn’t pay, they came after Roy for the $5000 balance because his name was on the contract.  That turned out to be an expensive chair.

It was the judgment, recently entered against Roy for the furniture bill, that landed Roy in federal bankruptcy court.

At 74, Roy’s credit is ruined for the rest of his life. The bankruptcy could also affect his insurance rates, and the mortgage loan that is due to balloon in 3 years. Roy is paying an interest only mortgage payment now. He can’t afford for his mortgage interest rate to go up.

Roy filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which means all of the non-secured debt will be wiped out. He won’t have to pay the debt back, and none of the creditors can take any judgment enforcement action against him, such as levying his checking account or putting a lien on his house.  In the overall scheme of things, $20,000 is not enough to declare bankruptcy over.  In Roy’s case, however, he’s elderly and on a fixed income.  If his checking account is garnisheed, he’ll starve.

Roy really doesn’t understand any of this, because he never played an active role in his finances. Gene, of course, blames himself. He should have made it his business to know, he thinks. Maybe he could have stopped things from getting to this point, he thinks – if he only knew.

 

  • Are you actively involved in your parent’s finances, or the finances of a elderly relative?
  • Do you know if your parents have loaned money to anyone or given anyone their credit cards? What kind of financial hit would they take if they lost that money?
  • Do you owe your parents money? What would happen to them if you couldn’t pay them back?
  • If you’re married or in a significant relationship, who pays the bills?
  • How involved are you in your finances?
  • Do you know the name of your insurance agent?

 

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