Demands of utility company add to widow's grief

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A reader from Ingram whose father died last month in Florida experienced a frustrating problem while helping her mother change brokerage and banking services, pensions, life insurance and various bills into her mother's name.

She said the most time-consuming of those changes "by far" involved the utility bills.

"Although they jointly owned their home, every utility bill was in my father's name only," she said. "Some companies only required that we provide a date of death, account number and a Social Security number to set up a new account or transfer the existing account."

But Broward County Water and Wastewater Services wanted more information than that.

Much more.

Inexplicably more.

The utility required a certified copy of the death certificate, a letter from the company that manages the mobile home park where her mother lives confirming that she is the homeowner and permission from the park to transfer the account into her name. It also wanted her mother come to its office with a government-issued photo ID such as a driver's license.

It gets worse.

When daughter and mother arrived at the utility's offices, they were told the account couldn't be put in the mother's name since the "Informant" listed on the death certificate was her son and not her. An "Informant" is the person who notifies the funeral home of a death.

Although her mother is listed on the death certificate as the surviving spouse and now is the sole owner of the mobile home, the utility refused to place the account in her name. It said it would make the name change only to the person listed as the "Informant."

"No amount of explanation or reason would change its policy," the daughter said. "My brother doesn't live in Florida and there's no reason for him to travel there to comply with something so apparently unnecessary."

So, daughter and her mother, exasperated at the thought of any further dealings with the mind-locked utility, gathered up their paperwork and left the bureaucrats to their red tape.

The bills will continue to be addressed to her late father, and her grieving mother will pay them. I doubt Broward County Water and Wastewater Services will refuse her checks.

The daughter, who requested anonymity, said she contacted the Post-Gazette "because my mother and I don't want anyone else to go through what we experienced."

Her advice:

"If a home is jointly owned, make sure to have the utility accounts and other bills in both names. It is much easier to make name changes or transfer accounts" when that has been done.

"The death of a loved one is stressful enough without having to jump through hoops in order to get a water bill in the survivor's name."

Amen to that.

The Florida utility didn't respond to several requests for comment.

Contact the FCC

ShopSmart, a monthly magazine published by the Consumers Union, says in its January issue that the nation's four biggest wireless carriers have doubled their rates for text messaging since 2005, "even though sending texts across their networks costs them practically nothing."

"We think U.S. wireless carriers such as Verizon and AT&T should not be allowed to gouge consumers with rates that appear to have no connection to actual operating costs."

It asks consumers to contact the Federal Communications Commission and urge the agency to pass regulations "that tie text-messaging rates to their actual cost to wireless carriers."

For more information, go to www.HearUsNow.org. ShopSmart and its sister publication, Consumer Reports, accept no advertisements.

ShopSmart features product reviews, shopping tips on how to get the most out of products and "best of the best" lists. For more information, go to www.ShopSmartmag.org.


Lawrence Walsh can be reached at pyp@post-gazette.com and 412-263-1895. Please include your day, evening and/or cell phone numbers. Due to volume, he cannot respond to every e-mail and phone call.


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