In Cory Doctorow’s Pluralistic post from Wednesday morning, I read about Molly McGhee’s surreal experiences with her mother’s creditors, after her mother’s death. Both posts are worth reading. Doctorow presents an analysis of the power structures that work to keep debtors debtors and creditors thriving, despite the human and social cost. McGhee’s post presents the surreal, disempowering feeling of dealing with a horde of relentless creditors, and the ‘double-barreled future of doom and despair’, suddenly trained on her.
In another life, I worked for a charity that dealt with a host of issues, including debt, and McGhee’s experience reminded me of the powerlessness that being a debtor entailed. Part of the role that my colleagues who were debt advisors fulfilled was advocating on behalf of clients because creditors were inherently unwilling to believe their self advocacy. Bailiffs and debt collectors especially, took the basic position that any claim that tried to avoid, delay, or negate their claim was a lie. It’s ghastly that not only is the credit/debt relationship a contract of responsibility, it also primarily seems to be one in which one side of the contract gives up their power to affect the contract in any way, after the initial agreement is made. Despite some advances that are being made for consumer rights, it’s a contract that seems to create responsibilities for the debtors and dissolve their rights, until they can access help from an advocate. This was true for McGhee, too; 90% of the debt was wiped out, after she had to open her own line of credit to pay a lawyer to act on her behalf. Horrible. Ghoulish.
I’m not sure what the laws are like in the US, but generally speaking in England and Wales (I think they’re different in Scotland), a debt is paid from the estate of the deceased. If it was solely in their name and they left no estate, or not enough to cover the debt, the debt doesn’t transfer to their descendants. There are exceptions, but it’s something worth remembering.
Much love from the protest outside the debtor’s prison.