, Derry, New Hampshire

April 25, 2012

Credit card debt can stick around for a long time

About the Law
Andrew Myers

What is meant by a "charge off" on my credit report?

A "charge off" is an accounting device used by creditors. Generally, if a debt has not been paid for 180 days, the original creditor will write off your debt, removing it from their books.

It does not mean that the debt no longer exists or that you no longer have the obligation to pay. The debt might be assigned or sold to a collection company that will call out the dogs to continue collection activity.

Charge offs will last on a credit report for seven years from the date of delinquency. This is about as bad a notation as can be found on any credit report. It indicates that there has been no payment on the debt for over a half a year. As a practical matter, the charge off can remain on your report much longer than seven years unless affirmative removal steps are taken by the debtor.

After the charge off, the creditor can take a tax deduction on the account. But, despite this bookkeeping activity, the legal validity of the debt remains.

How do I find out if my father has changed his will? I have a copy of the last known will in which he leaves me the house. However, he has been acting oddly and has been known to say one thing and then do another. I live in the house with him now, but I have suspicions he may have changed it without my knowledge. He is 87 and has dementia. I would like to know for sure.

Wills and trusts are private documents, so there is really no "right" to find out if the will has been changed. As long as a person has what the law calls "testamentary capacity," they can make or change a will or trust.

Put another way, assuming he has mental capacity, he can write you in or out at any time and you do not have the right to find out until he dies.

A will can be successfully challenged only where it is demonstrated that the person who wrote it, the testator, lacked testamentary capacity or was incompetent. Overturning a written will requires demonstration either that there was a lack of capacity, or that there was undue influence exerted by another person to the point that the signer lacked judgment to know what they were signing, or both.

Wills are changed all the time and no offspring has the "right" to be in a will. In fact, I find that people who think they have this mythical right are the same people whose parents often disinherit, as many parents are annoyed to learn that a child expects an inheritance.

The best advice is to treat dad right, help him as much as possible and the chips and the house will fall where they may.

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Andrew Myers of Derry has law offices in Derry and North Andover. He is a member of the American Association for Justice and the New Hampshire Trial Lawyers Association. Send questions to