One way that judgment debtors avoid paying off judgments is to die. When a judgment debtor dies, it is usually “game over” for most creditors. However, sometimes a judgment owner can check their late debtor’s estate situation. Depending on what they find out, some may try to recover something on their judgment by filing a claim. For judgment owners, there is only a short time after their judgment debtor’s death, to file their creditor’s claim on the judgment debtor’s estate.
The reason you want to verify if your judgment debtor died, is so that you can file a timely claim, to include their judgment debt in your judgment debtor’s estate. If you are polite and respectful, sometimes their family will pay or settle a deceased judgment debtor’s debt, occasionally even if an official claim has not been filed. This article is my opinion, and not legal advice. I am a judgment broker, and am not a lawyer. If you ever need any legal advice or a strategy to use, please contact a lawyer.
One way to discover the death of your judgment debtor is to use the Social Security Death Index (SSDI). The SSDI includes a Death Master File, which is a list of all persons who are reported as having died, to the Social Security Administration. This list is not perfect or guaranteed, however it is usually accurate. Usually, the younger your judgment debtor or person of interest was, the more specific the SSDI tends to be.
Full access to the SSDI is not free. The Social Security Administration does not make their Death Master File records directly available online. However, the records are usually available through genealogy websites; search for “SSDI” or “Social Security Death Index”. Web sites such as www.ancestry.com, www.familysearch.org, and others; allow you to search and access some historical death records for free. The best search results usually cost something.
The SSDI data includes the dead person’s year of death, given (first) name, surname (last name), and middle initial. Really old SSDI records have only the year of death, old records will have the month and year. The more recent the death, the better chance there will be exact and complete dates of birth and death, with zip codes. Note that if you do not find a listing in the SSDI, it does not mean the person is still living, or that the Social Security Administration (SSA) has no records on the deceased.
On publicly accessible search sites, social security numbers are now one-way. One can search by the full social security number, however the full social security number is never shown on (legal) public web sites. Paid professional databases, available for those having permissible purpose to subscribe to, may allow their subscribers to see their judgment debtor’s full social security number.
Once somebody dies, their privacy rights fade fast, because of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). By making dead people’s social security numbers available, much fraud is prevented. To get a copy of a dead person’s social security information from Social Security, you must pay them, and provide a copy of the decedent’s death certificate.
If you know your judgment debtor is dead, search on the web for “Form SSA-711” to get an application, and pay for a copy of the SS card of a dead person, or a “computer extract” (which seems only a slightly more useful option). This will likely list their place of birth, their father’s name, and mother’s full maiden name. Another way to go is to search for form “SS-5”, to get the application form for copy of a dead person’s social security card.