Strategies for `dead letters'


November 27, 2007|By DAN THANH DANG

The Q:

The dead may read no mail, but tons of letters are still mailed to deceased people every day.

It's a problem reader George Kilbourne is familiar with since he purchased a house from an estate in 1999. Recently he received a check from Avaya Inc. that was addressed to the departed couple. The couple had no children.

"I have not opened it," Kilbourne said. "I know it is a check because I can see the words, `Pay to the order of,' through the address window on the envelope.

"I asked my financial adviser where to turn and he doesn't know," Kilbourne said. "I am leery to open it and don't know where to turn. Nor can I figure out why this check arrived when the husband died many years ago and the wife died eight years ago. Can you help me out?"

The A:

I haven't a clue why the telecommunications firm is sending a check now, after all these years, to the deceased and previous owners of Kilbourne's house. I do know, however, that Kilbourne was smart not to open the envelope, even though his address is on it.

Freda Sauter, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service, reminds consumers that opening someone else's mail and "willfully and knowingly reading someone else's mail is a federal offense."

Now that we've covered that most important point, let's get back to Kilbourne's question.

The Postal Service will continue to deliver mail addressed to a deceased person until it is notified of a change in delivery preference.

In most cases, Sauter said, the previous owner or the administrator of the estate will file for a change of address, but this is good only for one year.

If you're still receiving mail for a deceased person after that, you can write, "Return to Sender" on the envelope and stick it back in the mailbox. Or, Sauter said, you can write "deceased" on the mail and put it back in the mailbox. A postal carrier will then redirect the mail to the sender.

In cases where the letter is undeliverable and cannot be returned because the sender is unknown or the classification of the mail does not entitle it to return service, the mail is routed to a Mail Recovery Center. There are two Mail Recovery Centers - in Atlanta and in St. Paul, Minn.

To stop a deluge of mail to deceased family and friends, loved ones might consider registering the person's name with the Deceased Do Not Contact List (DDNC), a consumer service started in October 2005 and sponsored by the Direct Marketing Association (DMA).

The information for deceased individuals will be flagged so marketers can keep them off marketing lists. Keep in mind that there is a $1 credit card verification fee for each consumer registered, so your personal information is also being collected by the DMA.

Reach Consuming Interests by e-mail at consuminginterests@ or by phone at 410-332-6151. Find an archive of Consuming Interest columns at

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