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ConsumerWatch: Cellphone Company Tries To Collect From Deceased's Estate

(CBS 5) - For a family grieving over the loss of a loved one, it doesn't help when a cellphone company goes after the person's estate for service that's been canceled.

Devastated by the loss of her husband, Babe Dalziel still gets choked up thinking about the four decades of marriage they shared.

"I'm getting by," said the 87-year-old widow on daily life since husband Darrel died Feb. 26. "It's stressful I guess."

The Dalziels' home still radiates the warmth of a loving family - framed photos all around spotlight a half-century of memories and achievements.

Lew Channell, Babe's son, and his wife Loretta drove from Arizona to help after Darrel's death - but had no idea a cellphone bill would give them such trouble.

The family called to cancel Darrel's cellphone service Feb. 29, three days after his death, but T-Mobile kept charging his estate for two months - all while his cellphone lay in a drawer unused.

"I try not to think about it," Dalziel said, recalling the family's last three months of calls and messages to the company.

Even after the family sent his death certificate, the company wanted two months of payments from his estate.

"I don't think it's right," Babe said.

"[T-Mobile] can talk about, 'Well, we're going after the estate,'" said Eric Ratinoff, a consumer attorney at Sacramento's Kershaw, Cutter & Ratinoff. "Really, what they're trying to do is pick the pocket of an 87-year-old widow."

Ratinoff is concerned T-Mobile may be doing the same thing to other grieving families who just end up paying the bill, he said.

"That's profits over people," he said. "That should make every one of your viewers sick."

T-Mobile apologized, saying, "If there has been no usage since the date of death we will waive service charges incurred through cancellation."

"This was an isolated incident," said company spokesman Juan Cornejo.

T-Mobile waived the full balance and called off collections.

"All you can do is say thank you," Loretta said. "That's exactly what we're after."

The family is happy they can finally relax and remember Darrel for the man he was.

"He took care of the property and most of all he took care of mom (Babe)," Lew said. "He was a good man."

If a loved one passes away, and you plan to close his or her account, here are some guidelines:

1. Stop using the device/phone. "If there has been no usage since the date of death we will waive service charges incurred through cancellation," Cornejo said.

2. Gather the documents you need. Phone number, account number and a copy of the death certificate are the three items companies need to close an account. "They will be asked to provide … attorney/legal estate documents if death certificate is not yet available," said Cornejo.

 3. Notify the company as soon as possible. While T-Mobile bases its termination date upon the printed death certificate date, customers have only 30 days to send in documentation to be considered for early termination fee adjustment.

 4. Stay on top of it. Make notes of all communication, including names and phone numbers/extensions to reach empoyees with whom you speak.

T-Mobile said "Customer Relations will verify the information and adjust the ETF if appropriate within 7 business days (excludes holidays)."


(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)


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