A reader writes that her dentist, whom she paid in advance, died before completing the work.
You may have had the experience of paying for certain services upfront and later regretting your decision and wanting the money back. Some professionals even provide an incentive for advance payments, maybe by offering a discount.
Reader Trudy has had the uncomfortable experience of making an advance credit card payment to her dentist who then passed away without completing the work.
She writes, “Dental work not complete, dentist passed away. Three Rivers Dental says they can not issue any refunds due to Mr. Fammaetino keeping all funds. To date his estate has not responded. I paid $13,500 in credit card charges, the work performed so far I would say is $7,500. They owe me $6,000. Can I turn this in to my credit card?”
Estate’s role in paying off dead person’s debt
When a person dies, their money and property goes into their estate. If the dead person left a will, it typically goes through a probate process in court to ensure its validity.
A court will appoint someone to administer the estate. This representative, or estate executor, will collect the deceased’s assets, pay off their debts and distribute what’s left to relatives according to the terms of the dead person’s will. To fulfill their duties, the estate executor will also take an inventory of the assets in the estate.
Attorney Mary Randolph says creditors could submit formal and informal claims. The latter include ordinary bills sent to the deceased that are then forwarded to the estate. The executor could use the assets available in the estate to pay such bills, using their discretion.
During the probate process, the estate executor is also required to provide public published notice to creditors and give them a certain amount of time to send in their formal claims. This notice period, which varies by state, is typically four to six months. Creditors will typically have to submit their claims by this deadline for them to be entertained by the executor. If the executor denies their claim, creditors can also appeal this decision.
If the estate has more debts than assets, it is said to be insolvent. There is a hierarchy for payment of debts, with some debts receiving a higher priority than others, based on state law.
Credit card dispute process
Trudy, since you have already reached out to the dentist’s estate and haven’t heard back, you could also exercise your Fair Credit Billing Act rights. This law allows credit cardholders to file disputes in case they have paid for goods or services they haven’t received.
This would be an appropriate avenue, considering your dentist is deceased and will not be providing the service you paid for in advance. This would be considered a billing error and you could put in for a chargeback with the card issuer.
To pursue an FCBA billing error dispute, write to the issuer at the address given for “billing inquiries” and provide your name, address and account number. You should provide a narrative about your case. You should also pursue this recourse within 60 days of when you first received the statement with the billing error. Send this by certified mail so you have proof of receipt. The card issuer should get back to you within 90 days of getting your letter.
Trudy, you have the right to file for a chargeback with your credit card issuer since your dentist died without providing the service you paid for in advance. In these situations, you should first try to resolve the matter with the merchant involved and you have already reached out to the dentist’s estate, without receiving a response. Hope your chargeback dispute goes smoothly!
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your credit card-related questions.