You Only Have 30 Days After A Loved One Dies To Cancel Their T-Mobile Account Without ETF

Anyone who has been through the ordeal of tying up the loose ends of a deceased loved one’s estate knows that phone companies can be huge pains in the butt, with endless, repeated requests for death certificates and CSRs constantly telling you they can’t speak to you because you’re not the account holder. And for some reason, T-Mobile thinks you should only have a few weeks to cancel this person’s account without having to incur an early termination fee.

CBS 5 in San Francisco has the story of a family that had to jump through hoops to get T-Mobile to cancel their late father’s T-Mobile account, even though his phone had gone unused in a drawer for months.

But it’s not necessarily this family’s story that got our attention, so much as the guidelines provided by a T-Mobile spokesperson.

The first two — Stop using the device/phone; Gather the documents (account info, copy of the death certificate) you need — seem sensible.

But it’s the third item that gives us pause:

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.

So if you’re loved one had a T-Mobile account you didn’t know about (which is not beyond belief for some people, who rarely, if ever, use their mobile phones), the deceased person’s estate could be socked with potentially hundreds of dollars in an early termination fee.

Given the number of stories we’ve heard over the years of people repeatedly sending death certificates to phone companies — who subsequently never have a record of receiving the documents — this 30-day condition opens the door to the even bigger hassle of trying to prove you did follow the guidelines.

This must be why T-Mobile includes the final guideline that tells you to make notes about every time you call and with whom you speak — because the burden of proof is on you to show the estate shouldn’t be hit with an ETF.


Edit Your Comment

  1. AtlantaCPA says:

    If someone received a subsidized phone and then dies next month, it seems the estate would actually owe something to the provider. I think if you fall outside that 30-day window you should just get to return the phone in lieu of an ETF.

  2. sqeelar says:

    TMobile just texted me a customer satisfaction survey. That explains all the questions about vampire practices and night time only use.

  3. missminimonster says:

    My mother died in August and I didn’t have the death certificate until November due to a coroner/autopsy being involved. If someone is in that situation, it looks like they may need to keep paying the bill until they get that death certificate. Hopefully T-Mobile would be decent about it and refund the money paid to the deceased person’s bill in between when they died and when the certificate came in.

    I guess I was lucky. No one hassled me about not having a death certificate right away. She had a Jitterbug cell phone, though.

    • luxosaucer13 says:

      Jitterbug caters specifically to the elderly and/or technologically challenged; it’s nice to see some company shows some flexibility.

      My father-in-law was looking at getting a Jitterbug, until I told him that they only use Sprint towers (no roaming). He chose Consumer Cellular instead………they use AT&T. It’s a sad fact that AT&T’s coverage is better than Sprint’s.

    • alana0j says:

      I’m hoping my dad doesn’t have an issue with my mom’s phone. She passed away a week and a half ago and is on his Verizon family plan. I think the whole plan is in his name, so I don’t know if him getting them her death certificate will matter and they’ll actually cancel the line for him…guess we’ll find out

  4. wackydan says:

    Screw the carrier… They can go after the estate if they want to… which they won’t do until long after the estate has been disseminated.

    • AustinTXProgrammer says:

      That is what I was thinking. But for an otherwise debt free estate it could pose a problem. I swore in front of a judge that there were no unsecured debts to avoid posting a bond. I called each credit card and paid them off before the court date (it wasn’t much).

    • AtlantaCPA says:

      …then they can sue anyone who inherited from the estate. Just because it gets disseminated doesn’t mean all debts from the estate are then nullified.

      They may choose not to sue the estate (or heirs) but that doesn’t mean they can’t.

      • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

        Don’t they still have a limited time to pursue the estate, shorter than traditional statue of limitation on debt?

        • AtlantaCPA says:

          I found one year when googling, but it must vary by state. Still I think it’s always going to be long enough for them to realize what’s going on and sue if they want to.

          • EvanWCordes says:

            Usually they have until the estate is closed assuming the Estate Administrator followed proper procedure and provided adequate notice (Usually publishing requests in a newspaper). After that, if they company does not submit within the appropriate time period, they are SOL.

            • AtlantaCPA says:

              I saw some info on that too. Sounded like the notice gave them plenty of time to collect from the estate. So any way you slice it, there is no ‘screwing the carrier’!

            • Taleigh says:

              It is usually some where around a year. My dad’s estate was closed by a Judge at the end of July, and the IRS tutned in paperwork in August and they had to go begging.

  5. luxosaucer13 says:

    Looks like T-Mobile just found a way to fleece more money out of their (former) customers. No wonder they’re failing as a company.

  6. Lucky225 says:

    T-mobile can pry that ETF fee from my cold, dead hands… oh wait a second..

  7. ycnhgm says:

    What’s the worst thing that could happen if you just not pay any bills and don’t inform the carrier that the customer has passed away? Who would they go after, especially if the estate is hardly an estate at all?

    • JJFIII says:

      If there is no estate it would go away, but if you inherited ANYTHING, the estate owes the money. I do not understand why people think because somebody dies a debt should go away. If you buy a car,and you are 50 years old, and die of a massive heart attack, should your wife get to keep the car just because? No lender would ever loan to anybody past certain ages (or charge them a higher rate) or people with specific medical conditions. TMobile is following the law and I see no problem with that. If the person who died did not like the policy that TMObile had, they could have gone elsewhere for service.
      As for proof of sending things, a FEDEX or certified mail receipt will hold up in court (especially if it is signed for by somebody who works for TMobile. My 19 year old cousin was killed in an automobile accident on August 5th. We contacted everybody and had no problem getting things done in a few hours. Is it a pleasant thing to do? Of course not, people dying is not generally a pleasant thing, but quite frankly TMobile can not be responsible to get the information to them, so who should it be?

      • ChuckECheese says:

        Your analogy is poor because in the case of cell phones, it is a service and not a tangible item (save the overpriced phone). If the cell company said “return the phone and we’ll call it a deal,” well, then, okay. But charging monthly charges and ETFs to dead people’s estates for services not rendered? Slimy. A cell contract is not so much a secured debt as it is a contract of adhesion.

        The rest of your discussion sounds like trolling. Sometimes it takes weeks or even months to get a death certificate. Sometimes executors don’t know there is a cell phone contract. As the OP mentions, cell companies are known to ignore customers who send them death certificates even repeatedly.

      • George4478 says:

        >>TMobile is following the law and I see no problem with that.

        There’s a law limiting the ETF adjustment period to 30 days?

        I thought they were following their own internal policies, not some statutory requirement.

  8. klobbersaurus685 says:

    we went through this hell with Verizon when my grandfather passed away. We faxed the death certificate 3 times and 1 time by mail. They claimed to have never got it. This happened over 2 months or so while we are still paying for this phone.
    I finally called to get their overnight address and sent all the paperwork certified mail with the delivery receipt. I got the receipt showing delivered and they still tried to pull the ‘we didn’t get it’ bs.
    After that we have an lawyer call and they amazingly found everything, all 5 fucking copies.

  9. kethryvis says:

    “you’re loved one”? **sigh**

    Consumerist, you’re a professional blog. I really do expect you to get your basic grammar right. At least give your posts a quick read over before hitting the shiny “post” button? Please?

  10. RadarOReally has got the Post-Vacation Blues says:

    I knew without even looking whose name would be on the byline. (It should be “your loved one”, not “you’re loved one”.)

  11. Banished to the Corner says:

    I don’t remember if it was called anything specific, but when my parent passed away (Mom in 1995 and Dad in 2005) we had a letter from the hospital stating that patient “xxx” had died and the death certificate would be issued at a later date. We used this for closing all utilities, store accounts, cancelling magazines, and newspapers and getting refunds for the amounts prepaid (my Dad had prepaid the local paper for 1 year and magazines for 3-15 years).

    While the bank didn’t take the letter for disbursement of the account balances (my Mom), I did get them all to flag the account as ‘account holder deceased’ and asked them to forward a check with the balance to the estate account. They all did this within 30 days, and it didn’t cost us or my Dad anything. Every single business took this, it was only the insurance companies that required a final Death Certificate for both my parents to claim their insurance.

  12. SirWired says:

    As a practical matter, it is rather unlikely T-Mobile would bother to file a debt claim with the estate over such a piddling amount.

  13. one swell foop says:

    Screw them. Upon the death of a party to a contract, the contract terminates as a matter of law. I’d argue that as long as you made a good faith effort to notify T-Mobile of the death and to cancel the account, that they could not pursue any charges billed to the estate after that date. Hell, I’d also argue that they couldn’t bill for a dime after the time of death since the contract terminated at the point.

  14. Smiling says:

    These phone companies are scum. Prepay really is the way to go with their updated phone selection and much lower plan prices. Plus, you don’t have to deal with scuzzy shenanigans like this.

    • luxosaucer13 says:

      There’s a few hidden “costs” associated with prepaid:

      1. No face-to-face customer service.
      2. No roaming, e.g. Boost and Virgin use ONLY Sprint towers, T-Mobile’s prepaid uses only T-Mobile service, and Straight Talk use only AT&T (GSM phones) or Verizon (CDMA phones).
      3. You pay more for the phone, sometimes MUCH more, compared to what a postpaid carrier offers, and get a lesser-quality device (last year’s cast-offs).
      4. In the case with T-Mobile prepaid and Straight Talk prepaid GSM phones, they are LOCKED to their respective services. Getting either one of them to unlock the device is a severe exercise in pain.

      Several years ago, I used to be a Boost customer, which is a Sprint prepaid brand. I could buy and activate a Boost phone in a Sprint store, but if there was a problem, there was nothing Sprint reps could do about it. I’d have to call Boost.

      • YouDidWhatNow? says:

        1. That’s a plus.
        2. Yes, although I feel compelled to point out that Straight Talk’s Android stuff apparently all runs on Sprint. So depending on what you want, you could be on Sprint, AT&T or Verizon with a ST phone.
        3. Buying the phone outright is the only sensible thing to do – frankly, having carriers subsidize phones and then levy ETFs should be outlawed. Less quality devices? You’re nuts. There’s nothing that a $150 Android ST phone can’t do that a $400 T-Mobile Android phone can.
        4. …so what. I have no cause to believe it’s any better with any other carrier.

        I’ve had contracts with every major carrier there is – they all suck. In every way. What becomes clear is that if ST can resell time on their networks, for less money than the major carriers themselves would sell it at retail, and still provide unlimited data…the major carriers are seriously ripping you off. It’s probably best just to accept the fact that all carriers suck, and just go with the one that rips you off the least. Assuming you’re in one of their service areas, that’s going to be one of the prepaid services.

      • Willow16 says:

        T-Mobile prepaid does roam – voice only. In fact, I have found that it roams in areas where the coverage map says I should have no service. As for the cost of phones, you can buy a brand new, unlocked Galaxy Nexus from Google for $349 and use it on the T-Mobile $30/month plan. You would make up the price of the phone in a few months.

  15. evilpete says:


    To took be 6 weeks to get the paper work to prove i controlled the estate when my mother died in Delaware,

  16. yankinwaoz says:

    Wow. I went through this in 1998 when my dad died. PacBell refused to release him from this mobile contract. They demanded that my mother, who has never had one, nor wanted one, take the phone and continue payment.

    It took months of escalation, and finally a nasty letter to the president of PacBell from my mom to get them to give it up.

  17. momoftwokids says:

    Went through this when my brother died suddenly at the age of 32 with both credit card vultures and a cell phone provider. After proving repeatedly that he had passed away (the certified hard copy mailed death certificate was the only thing that would work because they never seemed to get the faxes that went through just fine according to my machine)….

    they tried to tell me that I should pay his bill “because he would have wanted me to.”

  18. hektik says:

    I didn’t have this problem when closing my partner’s account with T-Mobile when he passed last year.

    Perhaps the solution is not talking to someone on the phone, but actually going into the store. I did that around 45 days after he passed and spoke with the store manager who got me the form. I filled it out and she faxed it in for me, I think. No problems, no ETF.

    Maybe they’ve changed their rules in a year.

    It is unfortunate that people have to go through this BS when dealing with the loss of a loved one.