You can’t threaten to sue on an old debt

You can’t threaten to sue on an old debt

Q. I defaulted on a retail jewelry contract in Florida in 2003 for a total of $1,721. I am suddenly receiving phone calls from a debt collector threatening to have me served court papers to sue me. He says the debt now is just under $6,000 with interest. He told me unless I make arrangements immediately, I will also owe lawyer’s fees and court costs when they sue me. He said if I pay $500 right away, he would make it all go away. This sounds like a scam to me. Can they sue me 12 years later?

A. There are laws in every state governing how long you have to file a lawsuit. They are called statutes of limitations. If the store or debt collector were to sue, it would be for breach of contract. I believe the limit to sue is five years in Florida; it is four years in Texas. After that time, if they were to sue, you would have the right to have the lawsuit dismissed.

I suggest you let them know the debt is barred by the statute of limitations, and you believe threatening to file a lawsuit that is time barred violates federal debt collection laws. They have the right to ask you to pay, and you still owe the money, but their threats to sue are unlawful.


Q. Can my apartment complex lock me out if I am late paying rent? I was only a few days late with the rent and had to live with a friend.

A. Under the law, a landlord has the right to change the locks when you fail to pay rent. He must, however, make a key available to you to come and go 24 hours a day. To have you evicted, the landlord must file an action in justice court, where you will have a hearing, and it will ultimately be the constable who does the eviction. In my opinion, the landlord had no legal right to lock you out until you paid rent.


Q. My parked car was hit by a drunk driver. The driver didn’t have any type of insurance. I only have his name and a police report, which states he had no license or insurance. Can I sue him if he cannot be contacted?

A. If a person driving a car causes damage to your car, he is responsible regardless of whether he has insurance. If the damage is under $10,000, you can file a claim against him in justice court.

The problem, however, may be serving him with papers and collecting after you win. The police report should have an address, and if it is his correct address, that is where he can be served. If the name or address he gave police is incorrect, it may be very difficult to locate him. If he had a driver’s license, he could lose it if he did not pay the judgment. In other cases, it may be difficult to force him to pay. The bottom line is that this situation shows the importance of having full insurance on your automobile, including uninsured motorist coverage.


Q. I have a small estate. I am thinking about writing my own will. Is a handwritten will valid? Does it have to be witnessed or notarized?

A. A handwritten will, called a “holographic will,” is valid in Texas. Basically, all that is required is that the will be written completely in your own handwriting. A holographic will cannot be typed or printed. Unlike other forms of wills, a holographic will does not need to be witnessed to be valid. There is no requirement in Texas that any form of will be notarized. Most wills are notarized, however, because this makes it easier to probate the will.

Although a holographic will is simple and legal, in my opinion it is generally not a good idea. One mistake can end up costing your loved ones a great deal in time and money. Many attorneys will prepare a simple will for a very reasonable fee. As far as I am concerned, this is money well spent.


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