Advice needed re: debts and terminal illness

  • Thread starter mark (sixstringtheoryDOTcom)
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M

mark (sixstringtheoryDOTcom)

A few weeks ago my Mother was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. She
was, at the time, given a median life expectancy of 1 year. As you may
have heard now that it is all over the news due to Peter Jennings being
diagnosed with it, few people diagnosed with lung cancer (no matter how
advanced it is) live more than 5 years.

My mother has no assets. She does have, what I'm finding out piece by
piece (she's very stubborn and as you can imagine, this is a very
emotional time), she does have a number of credit cards, I'm guessing 3
or 4 of them, with about $2000 each on them. She also has a cheap car
('02 Hyundai) that she paid extra for each month in order to get some
sort of "unable to work" insurance. Amazingly, it's true - we called the
other day and they said they would be sending out the paperwork and that
she shouldn't pay on the car any longer, that the insurance would pay.

However, the credit card debts remain. My mother hasn't and cannot work
now as she's in a lot of pain (and the medication). She has little in
savings. I begged her, for the past 10 years now, to do 2 things: quit
smoking and start saving for retirement and not rely on social security.
She did neither. This afternoon we spent a couple of hours at the social
security office and it seems she will soon be getting her social
security disability payments of about $1100 per month. She'll also
receive medical coverage, either through social security or through
welfare (which is where I'll be taking her next week to file a claim).
Please don't respond with something that, quite frankly, I would have
been thinking to myself if this weren't my own mother going through it
(ie, "It's situations like this that cause me to pay high taxes, etc).

So to summarize, my mother has probably less than a year to live (she
starts treatment next week, but her condition has gotten worse over the
few weeks so far and symptoms are such that the 1 year median life
expectancy is maybe not so for her). She will be getting about $1100 per
month in social security income. Possibly more if welfare/the state can
provide anything. I don't know exactly what her debts are yet, but will
this weekend. But let's assume she'll need to pay out about $500 to $600
per month to the credit card debts she has accumulated (thinking about
it now, I can't see how, after the car payment was taken away, she could
owe that much). I hate to see her spend half of her monthly income on
debts like this.

If you were advising her, what would you do? My brother has adamantly
told her to not pay a dime to anyone. To let the creditors call (she
lives with my brother) and he'll deal with them by changing his phone
number and just hanging up on them, etc. My mother does not feel
comfortable doing that, but also wants to be able to spend what little
she'll be receiving in social security on her grandkids and other things
that will make her happy with the time she has left.

I told her I think we should talk to a lawyer and see what he/she says,
but of course this will cost some money that she doesn't have, and
believe me - this woman will not let me pay a dime, no matter how hard
I've tried in the past, for anything for her. She got herself into this
advanced stage before detection because of her stubbornness and thinking
she could just work through the pain (she was a custodian at an airport,
working double shifts...).

Any advice is greatly appreciated. I realize there is a right thing to
do here and a wrong thing to do, ethically speaking. But the fact is
she'll never be able to pay off these debts outright, so it's not a
simple matter of just writing checks and being done with it.

sincerely,

mark
 
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J

John A. Weeks III

"mark (sixstringtheoryDOTcom)"
Any advice is greatly appreciated. I realize there is a right thing to
do here and a wrong thing to do, ethically speaking. But the fact is
she'll never be able to pay off these debts outright, so it's not a
simple matter of just writing checks and being done with it.
You cannot help someone who doesn't want the help. Beyond that,
I agree with the brother--stiff the creditors. If they want
to go to court, then file bankruptcy. With cancer, she has
no way to pay them, and she needs to conserve her cash for
her illness and end of life events.

This is kind of a grim subject for early in the morning. I
sure hope your mother does not suffer as this disease consumes
her. While modern medicine cannot do much about this kind
of cancer, at least they can help her be a little more
comfortable in the end. As far as you kids go, while this
is a horriable situation, at least you have notice and time
to take care of your mom.

-john-
 
Z

zxcvbob

A few weeks ago my Mother was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. She
was, at the time, given a median life expectancy of 1 year...
My mother has no assets. She does have, what I'm finding out piece by
piece (she's very stubborn and as you can imagine, this is a very
emotional time), she does have a number of credit cards...

Please don't respond with, "It's situations like this that cause me to
pay high taxes", etc.

(she lives with my brother)

I told her I think we should talk to a lawyer and see what he/she says,
but of course this will cost some money that she doesn't have, and
believe me - this woman will not let me pay a dime...

Any advice is greatly appreciated. I realize there is a right thing to
do here and a wrong thing to do, ethically speaking. But the fact is
she'll never be able to pay off these debts outright, so it's not a
simple matter of just writing checks and being done with it.
I'm sorry to hear about your mother. My FIL has stage 4 lung cancer; he
was diagnosed with it about 18 or 20 months ago.

What are the minimum payments on the CC's? Do they have high interest
rates? You might can combine them into one unsecured loan (probably a
new card with an introductory rate.) I almost agree with your brother,
but instead of paying zero, I suggest making minimum payments to avoid
the hassles, and I'd try to minimize those minimum payments by
consolidation.

If it would help anything, you can probably get one free consultation
with a lawyer. At least find out what happens when her estate owes
money after everything is settled. I don't know whether the heirs get
left holding the bag, or the creditors.

Best regards,
Bob
 
I

Ignoramus30662

now as she's in a lot of pain (and the medication). She has little in
savings. I begged her, for the past 10 years now, to do 2 things: quit
smoking and start saving for retirement and not rely on social
security.
Looks like her life events, in fact, made her past choice not to save,
a better choice than saving. Had she accumulated savings, she would
not have enjoyed her life as much as she did. (assuming that she
actually enjoyed spending money)
She did neither. This afternoon we spent a couple of hours at the
social security office and it seems she will soon be getting her
social security disability payments of about $1100 per month. She'll
also receive medical coverage, either through social security or
through welfare (which is where I'll be taking her next week to file
a claim). Please don't respond with something that, quite frankly, I
would have been thinking to myself if this weren't my own mother
going through it (ie, "It's situations like this that cause me to
pay high taxes, etc).
If you thought so, you would be incorrect. In fact, in your situation,
your mother's impending death relieves the tax and social security
system, since she will not be paid SS until old age, like those old
people who live long into retirement.
So to summarize, my mother has probably less than a year to live (she
starts treatment next week, but her condition has gotten worse over the
few weeks so far and symptoms are such that the 1 year median life
expectancy is maybe not so for her).
I am sorry to hear this. A year sounds like quite a stretch with stage
4 lung cancer. I lost a relative to cancer recently, it is terrifying.
She will be getting about $1100 per month in social security
income. Possibly more if welfare/the state can provide anything. I
don't know exactly what her debts are yet, but will this
weekend. But let's assume she'll need to pay out about $500 to $600
per month to the credit card debts she has accumulated (thinking
about it now, I can't see how, after the car payment was taken away,
she could owe that much). I hate to see her spend half of her
monthly income on debts like this.
If I was in her position, paying off debts would be my dead last
priority. There are more important things to worry about, like
enjoying sunshine or her kids etc. There is no rational reason in the
world to bother with these debts beyond making minimum payments (which
is her true obligation).
If you were advising her, what would you do?
I would suggest to pay minimum payments, at best.
My brother has adamantly told her to not pay a dime to anyone. To
let the creditors call (she lives with my brother) and he'll deal
with them by changing his phone number and just hanging up on them,
etc. My mother does not feel comfortable doing that, but also wants
to be able to spend what little she'll be receiving in social
security on her grandkids and other things that will make her happy
with the time she has left.
That's wise. I would get some official paper about her diagnosis, and
if any creditors call, tell them about the diagnosis and mail or fax
them a copy of it. I highly doubt that they would find it worthwhile
to bother her with collection actions. They would, most likely, simply
write off the debts.
I told her I think we should talk to a lawyer and see what he/she
says, but of course this will cost some money that she doesn't have,
and believe me - this woman will not let me pay a dime, no matter
how hard I've tried in the past, for anything for her.
I would not waste money on a lawyer, in this instance. There is
nothing to be gained here, since she is already basically indigent. No
money to be saved, no credit history to worry about, etc.
She got herself into this advanced stage before detection because of
her stubbornness and thinking she could just work through the pain
(she was a custodian at an airport, working double shifts...).
Lung cancer is a nasty disease, it is usually incurable by the time it
is detected.
Any advice is greatly appreciated. I realize there is a right thing
to do here and a wrong thing to do, ethically speaking. But the fact
is she'll never be able to pay off these debts outright, so it's not
a simple matter of just writing checks and being done with it.
Look at the facts.

1. She is going to die soon.
2. She is going to be in serious pain even sooner
3. Due to these unfortunate circumstances, she will not be able to
pay debts in full anyway
4. There is no reason in the world, for her, to go beyond her credit
card contract obligations, which are to pay minimum payments.
5. There is no ethical theory that says that a person must pay debt in
all circumstances. There are some circumstances that warrant not
paying debts. That is recognized in bankruptcy laws.

I would tell her to stop worrying about this (does not sound like she
is all that worried).

i
 
E

Ed

I am a firm believer in paying for anything you bought. If there is any way
to pay then pay.

That said, you don't have to pay anything. I'm accepting as fact that she
has no assets.
If she does have assets, her car, her home, her jewelry, etc. she should pay
what she owes.
An estate in other words.

I have seen many posts like yours in the past and in just about every case
the child (you) was trying to find ways to protect what the dying person had
so they could keep it for themselves. I hope that's not the case here.

My Mom died from lung cancer and we paid all of her bills until her funds
were exhaused. After that I gave the people looking for money (mostly
medical) her new address , the cemetary. It all stopped like someone closed
a door.
 
A

AndyFlach

mark said:
A few weeks ago my Mother was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. She
was, at the time, given a median life expectancy of 1 year.

My mother has no assets. She does have, what I'm finding out piece by
piece (she's very stubborn and as you can imagine, this is a very
emotional time), she does have a number of credit cards, I'm guessing 3
or 4 of them, with about $2000 each on them.
I am sorry to hear about your mother's cancer. Its an awful thing to
have to face.

Since your mother has no assets, is unable to work, only has a year to
live, and will be trying to get by on $1100 a month, I would recommend
not making any more payments on the credit cards. They may try and
harass her, but if you just screen phone calls and sort through her
mail, she may never even know its happening. They may file suit, but I
think its unlikely for balances that low, especially if you explain to
them that she has no assets and has less than a year to live. If they
do file suit I would just ignore it and let them get a default judgment
against her; since there are no assets I think it would be very hard
for them to ever collect the judgment, especially in the time frame we
are talking about.

Also, I wouldn't feel guilty about stiffing the credit card companies.
They are big boys and this is just part of the cost of doing business.
They know when they make unsecured loans to people who are living
paycheck-to-paycheck that some percentage of their borrowers will get
sick, die, lose jobs, etc. and they will not be repaid. If they wanted
to be sure of being repaid every penny they would be in mortgage
lending or buying US Treasuries or high grade corporate bonds.

Andy
 
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M

mark (sixstringtheoryDOTcom)

I am sorry to hear about your mother's cancer. Its an awful thing to
have to face.

Since your mother has no assets, is unable to work, only has a year to
live, and will be trying to get by on $1100 a month, I would recommend
not making any more payments on the credit cards. They may try and
harass her, but if you just screen phone calls and sort through her
mail, she may never even know its happening. They may file suit, but I
think its unlikely for balances that low, especially if you explain to
them that she has no assets and has less than a year to live. If they
do file suit I would just ignore it and let them get a default judgment
against her; since there are no assets I think it would be very hard
for them to ever collect the judgment, especially in the time frame we
are talking about.

Also, I wouldn't feel guilty about stiffing the credit card companies.
They are big boys and this is just part of the cost of doing business.
They know when they make unsecured loans to people who are living
paycheck-to-paycheck that some percentage of their borrowers will get
sick, die, lose jobs, etc. and they will not be repaid. If they wanted
to be sure of being repaid every penny they would be in mortgage
lending or buying US Treasuries or high grade corporate bonds.

Andy
Thanks to everyone who responded. It's been a horrible month for my
family, and unfortunately this past Thursday the news (if you can
believe possible) actually got worse. My mom's cancer has spread to her
brain. So the one year median life expectancy (which actually, prior to
Thursday, seemed more than attainable to her doctors) is most likely
shortened to 3 months. I say "most likely" because her oncologists will
not state a time-frame (the initial one-year LE was from a different
oncologist. SHe's since been transferred to a cancer treatment center
for outpatient care). I came up with 3 months from my own internet research.

Either way, we applied her for welfare over the internet, in addition to
the social security that we had to bring her to in-person last week.
Man, what a pathetic scene that office was. I was quite surprised at the
clientele - almost 90% of the approximately 100 people sitting in the
waiting room were under 40 years of age. I asked the social worker what
their deal was and she said that drugs plays a large role in many of
their cases...whatever that means.

My mom went ahead and paid her minimum debts this month. After
Thursday's bad news, my brother and I are not even bringing up finances
again with her. I don't see the point in getting her upset or having to
worry about such trivial things (it's almost funny to refer to paying
ones debts as funny in a financial-planning newsgroup!). When I visited
on Sunday she had a ton of gifts for my kids (her grandkids), which
tells me she's gone on a bit of a spending spree. I bit my lip and kept
my mouth shut. Heck, she deserves some semblance of happiness, however
she can get it. She's had a relatively horrible life, through mostly no
fault of her own (and there are few people in the USA who can honestly
say that these days).

Thanks again,

mark
www.sixstringtheory.com


======================================= MODERATOR'S COMMENT:
Please trim the post to which you respond.
 
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mark (sixstringtheoryDOTcom)

Ed said:
I am a firm believer in paying for anything you bought. If there is any way
to pay then pay.

That said, you don't have to pay anything. I'm accepting as fact that she
has no assets.
If she does have assets, her car, her home, her jewelry, etc. she should pay
what she owes.
An estate in other words.

I have seen many posts like yours in the past and in just about every case
the child (you) was trying to find ways to protect what the dying person had
so they could keep it for themselves. I hope that's not the case here.
No, unfortunately my mom has no assets whatsoever, except for her 2001
Hyundai Accent.
 

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