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What would you recommend for an 87-year old widow with an outstanding credit card debt of slightly more than $11,000 and no assets. She has been paying off this bill (and adding nothing to her credit card) since the death of her husband almost five years ago. For some time she paid the minimum, but more recently as the minimum has dropped, she has been able to pay slightly more. Now she is in a nursing home. Her income is modest (social security and a very small pension); assets are now down to less than $5,000 and will be depleted in short order by her need for either a nursing home or assisted living. In fact, she is applying for financial assistance. Two lawyers have recommended that she simply stop paying the bill since there is nothing they can go after. There is a concern, however, with harassment of this fragile elderly woman from bill collectors. As the relative handling her financial affairs, I feel horribly uncomfortable at simply not paying a bill. Do you have any suggestions?

This is a difficult one because you really have to decide for yourself what’s best. Do you follow the lawyers advice and bear the brunt of the collection calls (and it sounds like some guilt as well…totally understandable) OR do you try and work something out.

Even if you were able to negotiate the debt down to half of the $11,000, the $5,000 in assets still would not cover it and, of course, would leave her with zero money. Obviously, that is not an option. So you can take the lawyer’s advice if you believe what they have told you based on your state laws, etc. or you can find the money from somewhere else to pay the bills.

Unfortunately, neither decision sounds very good but that’s really all there is as far as I can tell. That is a tough situation and a judgement call only you and she can make together. I wish I had a better answer for you…good luck.