How do I get T-Mobile to stop billing my dead friend?

Question: My friend Adam died March 3. He was disabled and lived with my family.

I called T-Mobile to notify it the day after his death. I was told that since he had no contract and was paying monthly that his account would simply cancel out for non-payment.

They would not accept my information about his death because I was not on his account. The next month another bill arrived, and it was larger. I called again. This happened for three months.

Finally, a customer service representative told me that I had to write a letter to their customer relations department and explain the situation. I did, and I sent a copy of his obituary with the letter.

I was sent a letter from them that said I had been added to his account without my request or permission, and that they would be sending a final bill for his estate to settle. I had explained in the letter that he was disabled and had left no estate.

After another month of billing, the invoice was up to $98 for a service that cost him less than $20 a month. I repeatedly called customer service, tried calling the customer relations department and was told very firmly that they never took phone calls and I could send a letter if I needed to contact them.

They sent me back to customer service, and I was told that only a certified death certificate was acceptable to prove death, and that if I wanted to do that I would have to contact the state, pay a $15 fee plus postage, wait several weeks, and send it to them.

I am not, nor have I ever been, responsible for this bill. The customer service person did not deny it when I asked if they just keep running up these bills and then take a large deduction for taxes from writing them off. This is, in my opinion consumer fraud.

I worry about the other people that are being forced to pay bills for services that were never rendered – in his case the service was totally suspended after the first non-payment.

This is wrong, and I need your help to resolve it and remove that bill. No one is going to pay it and there is no one responsible for it. Thank you for whatever you can do to help. I really appreciate it. — Merry Bauman, Peck, Kan.

Answer: My condolences on your loss. T-Mobile should have canceled Adam’s phone service as soon as you sent it evidence of his death. It should have made the process as easy as possible — not a frustrating series of emails and phone calls that ended with his bill growing more than fivefold.

As far as I can tell, T-Mobile doesn’t directly address the issue of a customer’s death directly on its website. But it offers a few clues. In a section that deals with early termination fees — those are the annoying surcharges imposed when you exit your contract before its term is finished — it describes the proof T-Mobile requires to confirm a customer’s death. The evidence includes a mobile number, account number, name of the responsible billing party and a death certificate or a legal document confirming the customer’s death.

The problem isn’t just how these documents are provided to T-Mobile, but how soon. Requiring that you send them through the mail after a lengthy process can take weeks, even months. In a conversation with a T-Mobile representative, you were told that this was the company’s policy, and that T-Mobile wanted to build up charges and then write them off on their taxes, a practice that would make perfect sense from the perspective of a business.

I’m not sure T-Mobile is trying to profit from its customers’ demise. That would seem cold-hearted, and besides, the section dealing with death promises a reply to the request within a week.

But I do believe the system it uses to verify someone’s passing is needlessly complex. At the very least, every call center employee should be briefed on how to handle a call from someone’s next of kin (if not, then at least give them a darned script to read). Make it as easy as possible to settle a person’s affairs.

Maybe the company says it best on its site: “The death of a loved one is hard enough. T-Mobile doesn’t want to make it any more difficult.”

I contacted T-Mobile on your behalf. A representative sent me a prepared statement promising “T-Mobile is committed to delivering the best experience in wireless to our customers and takes great pride in delivering excellent customer service.” The company declined to comment on your case, citing privacy considerations.

But a representative called you and in a tone of voice you say was “very patronizing” told you the company’s policy was for the protection of its own customers. T-Mobile issued a credit to cover the amount showed as owing on the account and closed it.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • M Sarkar

    Shaking my head at “in a tone of voice you say was “very patronizing””.Poorly-trained CSR, or just CSR in a foreign land trying to read a script while pretending to have an American accent?

  • bodega3

    She wrote a letter but did she include proof of the death, hence the issue with the continued billing?

    My father-in-law died a few months back and taking care of these matters has not been an issue with proper documentation.  So I voted no on your poll.  You don’t want anyone being able to screw up your accounts, so I understand their procedures.

  • Rosered7033

    SO has supplied various mortgage and title companies with all documents they requested in order to remove his late spouse from the house title, and still it remains.  Don’t know what it takes to do it once, successfully, but it has been an ongoing battle – 12 years now.

  • Christopher Elliott

    That’s a good question.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Probably correct regarding the lack of proof…but that was also T-Mobile’s fault for failing to tell the OP that was required.  I’ve handled the affairs when a loved one died and everybody I dealt with was totally upfront about what was required. Makes me wonder how T-Mobile could be so clueless.

    Also, if T-Mobile really wants to build up charges so they could write them off later, the advice given the OP certainly would help in that. He sits and waits thinking everything is taken care of while charges continue to mount. 

    The other part of the story that I found suspicious was their insisting the OP be added to the account.  In none of my experiences did anyone even suggest adding me to the deceased’s account. I’d have been scared that my being added would leave me open to their demanding I pay the balance owed.  I wonder if that wasn’t going to be T-Mobile’s next step if Chris hadn’t intervened?  If the OP relents and pays, they’re paid in full.  Otherwise, they eventually clear things up after the “mistake” and write it off.

  • LeeAnneClark

    I too was a little startled that they wanted to add the OP’s name to the account, and that would have been an immediate red flag.  Name added to account = responsible for payment…and now the person on the account is NOT dead, so the charges can continue!  I’m glad it didn’t come to that, but that’s the first thing I thought when I read that.

    I once contacted my daughter’s bank to help with an error, and in order to talk to me they asked her to authorize me as a “contact”.  Lo and behold, when I checked my credit report later that year, HER account showed up on MY credit report, lowering my score because she’d been overdrawn!

    NEVER allow your name to be added to anyone’s account, of any type.

  • Joe Farrell

    I’m just wondering why our OP is even bothering . . . if they want to go after a dead guy’s estate that, likely after paying the expenses of his last illness and burial, has no assets – by all means let them.

    If the OP is not the estate representative, whether, friend, partner, spouse or family member, its not his problem, not his responsibility and legally the identity theft laws [to the extent they exist] prevent the company from talking with the guy.  

    Stop whining and send the bills to whomever the estate representative is.  If there is no estate rep  – no will – then if the family does not want to step in here and clean things up then if the OP feels compelled as a friend he can step in and apply to the court for the authority to do it.

    Otherwise-  stay out of it.  Its not your problem.   You called – you told them he was dead.  Let THEM deal with.  If they start collection calls – tell them to kiss off – you are not him and not to call you anymore.  

  • sirwired

    Unless my friend is an authorized billing contact on my account, I WANT the carrier to require a death certificate before a 3rd-party can get my account closed.

    In any case, why does it matter?  The amount is way to small for t-mobile to bother filing a claim with the estate.

    On another note, what post-paid cell plan lets you get away with only paying $18/month?  Certainly I pay less than that with my pre-paid service, but how is it so low with post-paid?

  • Joe_D_Messina

    I don’t see where the OP ever complains about having to provide proof. Her complaint is that T-Mobile said she didn’t have to do anything and the account would automatically be closed due to lack of payment. That wasn’t correct and the bills kept coming.

    As to why they’d care, it’s possible they are living at the deceased’s address or are the executor.  I know from personal experience it’s no fun getting dead people’s mail, particularly from places that have been notified of the death.  

    Also, once T-Mobile stuck the OP’s name on the account, the bills would probably have  continued to come–only in the OP’s name. That’s far and away the worst part of this story. There’s no reason the OP would ever have needed to be added to the account. That was either a terrible screw-up on T-Mobile’s part or the beginning of  a strategy to get her to pay for the deceased’s phone bill.

  • cjr001

    I’ve not had to go through such a situation, so I cannot say whether it’s truly difficult or not.

    As others have pointed out, this whole situation sounds funny. And going so far as to add the OP to the account is not only something the OP shouldn’t have allowed, but it’s something that any reputable business shouldn’t do.

    That said, considering how far too many companies are far too difficult in getting customer service for any other issue you may have while you’re alive, being difficult after death wouldn’t come as a surprise either.

  • William

    I have the same situation. My mother passed away in May. I called as soon as was practical to advise them of her passing. Almost three months later I am still receiving bills from T-Mobile. I have called three times and documented each call. Each time they were suppose to close out the account but obviously they did not. Not one customer service rep told me to send a copy of the death cert. the foreign call centers are the worst to deal with. They do not seem to have a clue. You eventually have to ask for a supervisor who seems to have better command of the English language. Let’s see if the last call did the trick. i told them under no uncertain terms was I going make payment to them past the DOD

  • Daisiemae

    And with the OP’s name on the account, it could end up destroying his credit. 

  • sdir

     Suspicious is right. When my father passed recently, my sister contacted all utilities and services to notify them of his death.  She was an authorized contact on his gas bill, but NOT a cosigner.  CSR claimed she was not only a cosigner, but that she was responsible for the few hundred dollars that was owed and he then told her she’d end up in collections unless the bill was paid!

    She called back later and fortunately got things straightened out.  The final bill was only like 20 bucks (Dad had a deposit on the account) and sis was never a cosigner or responsible for the account anyway.  I just have to wonder, how much of a jerk are you to lie and take advantage of a grieving family?  I assume there is incentive for employees to get families to pay off accounts, but good grief.

  • Michelle C

    When she gets another bill right “deceased- return to sender” and be done with it.

  • Daves

    Heh, the OP probably would’ve stayed away after if not for this:

    I was sent a letter from them that said I had been added to his account without my request or permission


  • Joe Farrell

    that’s simple:  show me a form that I signed or acknowledged where I agreed to pay – end of case.

    I know I was a little harsh but its really that simple.   I understand wanting to ‘help’ but this is not helping – its getting in the way. 

  • Theodore Rosenberg

    yOU wouldn’t like it if I called T-Mobile and told them that you were dead.  NOR would you like it if I sent an obit (which is EASY to do) .

    They are right in accepting nothing but a legal document.  What you should have done is marked “DECEASED” on the bill and put it back into the mail, sooner or later, they will get and accept the message.  NEVER give them your name or how to reach you, or they will try and collect from you.

  • emanon256

    The customer service person did not deny it when I asked if they just keep running up these bills and then take a large deduction for taxes from writing them off. This is, in my opinion consumer fraud.

    So the OP asked T-Mobile if they ran up bills to take a write off, and they did not deny it. Chris, you said that T-Mobile told the OP they run up bills in order to take a write off.  Which way was it?  Honestly, if someone accused me of that, I would not dignify them with a response either.  Also, I think the OP doesn’t quite understand how taxes work.  I record my $98 in income against the customer account, the customer passes away, and then I take a $98 deduction.  That means is I do not pay tax on the income I never received to begin with.  This is not in any way consumer fraud; anyone should be able to not pay tax on income they never received. 
    I am sorry if I don’t sound sympathetic, but why did the OP make this such a big deal?  If the OPs friend had no estate, and the OP was not responsible for the bill, then who cares?  The OP said they shut off the service.  Eventually the bills will stop.  Honestly, if my friend died, I think there would be for more important things to deal with than they cell phone.

  • MikeInCtown

    I voted no as anyone who has even been around anyone who had to deal with an estate knows that a death certificate is needed for nearly anything. Anyone can place an obit in a paper. As to wether tmobile should have told him straight up, well I’m guessing that the majority of customers cancelling contracts aren’t doing so because of death, so it falls low on the list of CSR trained things.

    Also, in many cases a death certificate isn’t enough either in that the person must be the executor of the estate or a court approved one.

    in this case, it would seem that getting a $15 item would have saved everyone a lot of hassle.

  • jimzmum

    It is even more difficult if a person is acting as a legal representative. I have PoA for my mother, who is living with dementia. Canceling her internet, wireless, credit cards, has been interesting. One company asked that I send a copy of her death certificate. Hello? We had a nice chat about that. I have been through this before with my father’s death. The best thing is that the mortuary provided certified copies of his death certificate. If the poster can contact the family of the deceased, then a death certificate can be obtained. Oh, for what it is worth, I am having to provide copies of my father’s death certificate to the cable company, because the service was originally in his name, and the paperwork we filed to change the account to my mother’s name was “lost”. No matter that the account has been in her name for over 15 years. 

  • mszabo

    Certainly it sucks to lose a friend.  However in this particular instance with no estate it seems like a bit of a non-issue.  Why not just inform the CSR, XXX no longer lives here, his last known address is c/o Local Morgue.  Please address all future correspondence there.  Really the only person you were attempting to help here, again assuming there is no estate, is T-Mobile.  If they don’t want the help sorting out their database then who cares.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Well, it seems safe to assume she’d never been around anyone who’d had to deal with an estate.  A pretty small percentage of people have had to do that.

    As for it not being a common question, the fact is, it DOES come up. My expectation is that the CSR would transfer the call to a supervisor or more experienced agent if they didn’t know. That would certainly beat giving out the wrong answer.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    So, calling the phone company to let them know one of their customers has died is “getting in the way”?   Bottom line is that somebody was going to be stuck sorting out things for the deceased and it seems she got the short straw.  If she’s the executor it’s her obligation. (Also possible she had power of attorney being he was in hospice for months.)  It’s beyond bizarre to fault the one person in the story who was trying to do the right thing.

  • judyserienagy

    Good grief, this is the best example of corporate stupidity and arrogance I’ve heard since I started reading Chris’ daily stories.  All they would have had to do is explain in a compassionate way that they needed proof of the death.  “Adding” the OP to the account is obviously one of the ways they are able to further cheat people.

    I guess that someone who wanted to annoy the customer could try to get his phone service cut off by saying he was dead?    Ugh, is anyone capable of rational thought in the CS departments of major corporations?  Perhaps they need a “senior CSR” to which these kinds of things are referred for resolution … someone with a BRAIN.

  • Tracy Schlottman

    From what I read she only sent the obituary because she didn’t want to pay for a death certificate.  Anyone can write an obituary and claim the person died and I don’t blame the company for not accepting it.  I find it very hard to believe that this person received that type of response from T-Mobile.  I actually just got off the phone with them concerning my parent’s account – we are wanting to cancel my Mother’s line of service since she had a stroke a few months and is no longer able to speak or use a phone.  They were extremely helpful and advised that the only way to avoid the $200 early termination fee is usually if the acct holder dies and you send in their death certificate.  After notifying me of this they changed my Dad to a lower rate plan that would fit his needs and are giving us a $10 credit for the next six months.  They also advised getting a Dr’s statement about my Mother’s condition stating it is permanent and to send that to their Customer Relations dept to see if they would consider waiving the early termination fee since this was an unplanned permanent event.  Also, why call them to notify them of the death if they were not in a contract and there was no estate to pay the bill – they would have just cut off service after the monthly payment wasn’t made.  I suspect they misunderstood and thought the individual was in charge of the friends estate and had a legal right to make changes to the account which they should have gotten paper work on to verify before making the changes.

  • Tracy Schlottman

     I was advised that customer service does not handle these issues.  If you haven’t already you need to speak to the retention department…

  • Bernard Rappoport

    T-Mobile is the most unethical and corrupt of the American cellphone systems.  My friend bought an overpriced phone at their Phoenix Metro Center location in 2011.  She was TOLD she had insurance on its loss…then when she went to make a claim, she was told she couldn’t have had such insurance since she was paying on a monthly basis…BUT…it was T-Mobile who wouldn’t even let her take a long-term plan because they said that it couldn’t be paid by somebody else if they didn’t live in the US.  Funny, but Canadian cell companies will take a credit card payment from Americans…and how come my Canadian CASH is good to T-Mobile but not my Canadian credit card???  Wrote in to Jim Alling, who could care a rat’s ass about customer service, never responded, but had a very rude and condescending woman call to tell us to pee up a tree and play in the steam.  Screw T-Mobile royally, they make Verizon and AT&T look like customer service champions.

  • S E Tammela

    I’m a bit concerned that all these companies seem to be discussing private information with people who are not the account holders in the first place. This company should have refused to discuss it with anyone until proof of next-of-kin (and death) has been provided.

    But in this case, that was difficult to prove… the simplest thing would be to declare that you’re the owner of the home and this person no longer lives there. Mark the envelope “return to sender”, tell them they have the wrong address, that you don’t have a forwarding address for them, and ask them to stop sending you a bill which isn’t yours.

  • RITom

    YOU said it “I am not, nor have I ever been, responsible for this bill.”  So what court gave you the legal authorization to become Adam’s Exectutrix to settle his affairs.

    This is not “consumer fraud” as the company is increasing revenue and then turning around and writing it off later. There is no income to them because they do not receive any cash after Adam’s death.

    You ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE.  Yes you notified the company and what they do with that info is up to them.  If the bills come in then do not open them as the mail is addressed to Adam, not you, and that is mail fraud on your part  Mark on the bills “Deceased 1/1/xx”, cover over the delivery address and drop them in the mail.

    you not need anyone’s help, you are not responsible for the balance owned and will not be paying it. Adam was not your spouse and you were not financially obligated on his debts.

    Many companies review newspaper death notices on a regular basis to see if their customers have died and they put hold’s on thier accounts.  My mom worked at one of the bank years ago and one employee read the obits every morning and then check to see if that person had accounts with the bank, had direct deposits or a safe deposit box. If so a hold was put on the account right away (just in case a relative wanted to take something out that they shouldnot have..

  • Ralphgot

    “delivering excellent customer service?” T-Mobile? Must be a joke.”

  • jim6555

    As a former T-Mobile dealer and current customer, I can assure you that all of T-Mobile USA’s customer care facilities are located either in the United States or Canada. The company has a very large market presence in Europe, but the European and USA operations do not share customer service centers. Over the years, I have found most of T-Mobile’s people to be well-trained and motivated to help their customers. What sometimes gets in the way are security procedures that all of the wireless carriers use. If a caller can’t be identified as an authorized user on the account or doesn’t know the password or last four digits of the SS#, the agents are not allowed to make changes to the account. As I said, ALL OF THE WIRELESS CARRIERS use these same procedures.

  • Allan Jayne

    I question the need for an original death certificate to cancel a service or a utility.Even if there was money or assets in the estate, once the company was notified to cancel the service, it would not have the right to collect any more monthly charges for an account whose usage has stopped..

  • 2travel

    This happened to me with my Dad.  His long distance provider wouldn’t cease service over phone.  demanded death certificate, which I sent and they KEPT billing me and even sent the account (all for months after his death) to a collection agency.  Really, Excel?  Excel stinks to high heaven.  Avoid them like the plague.  I finally got the billing stopped over 7 months after my Dad’s death when I sent a second death certificate and my husband threatened whatever idiot in India they had answering the phone with a lawsuit.  I am complaining to the FCC.  This is just wrong.

  • vitaminct

    having read this post immediately after reading the post about your power getting cut off without your permission leaves me a little perplexed. in the other story, you take progress energy to task for not verifying with you that you wanted your account closed. but in this story, you take t-mobile to task for doing just that (albeit for a dead person). how is a company supposed to win?

  • TMMao

    This could be the other side of Chris’ unexpected utility shutdown order.  Allow a non-authorized person to close an account, or require proof of authorization first?  Can’t have it both ways.

  • Not Given

    I think I would mark through the bar code on the envelope, write deceased on it and return it to the post office. Isn’t that what you should do?

  • Anon

    Yeah T-mobile are relentless when it comes to this sort of thing

  • Sky Captain

    My father passed away in December, 1997 and my mother passed in August, 2004. As their eldest child I was appointed “Personal Representative”, which is the Oklahoma equivalent of Executor. Among my numerous duties was preparing a “Notice to Creditors”, consisting of a letter which included the account number and account-holder’s name, explaining that the account holder had died, along with the date of death to mark the end of any charges to the account. There was also a “presentment date” stated in the body of the letter, which was two months from the day it was mailed, and that was the deadline for that company to fill out and return the Notice to file a claim against the estate.

    Along with the each Notice I included:
    1) An official copy of my father’s death certificate (if his name was still on the account);
    2) An official copy of my mother’s death certificate; and
    3) A copy of the “Letter of Administration With Will Annexed”, which appointed me Personal Representative for the estate.

    This provided a logic chain for them to follow showing my father’s death, my mother’s death, my authority to handle the account, and a deadline for them to reply if they wanted to file a claim. Just writing “Deceased” on a bill does nothing, and I can’t believe people think that would take care of anything.

    I don’t recall the exact number, but I believe I mailed out over thirty Letters to Creditors (which I had to list on an “Affidavit of Mailing Notice to Creditors of Decedent” so I could legally show that I did mail them out, and on what date). Of that number only five returned their Notice before the presentment date, so they were the only ones I had to pay off when the estate was settled.

    Two of the companies that did *not* return their letter at all later threatened me with sending the account to collections and one (who waited until fifteen months after the presentment date to contact me) threatened a lawsuit. I resent them all the same documentation as before, but this time I included the Affidavit showing that the documents had been sent, and a sharply-worded letter pointing out that they had screwed up, there was nothing they could do legally at that point, and that if they sent me any more letters of any kind I would “deal with them in the appropriate legal manner”. I never heard another peep.