Struthers woman says company raised water bill to pay dead father’s debt

Sheri Foor's father owned three apartment buildings -- with debt from tenants' past due water bills

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STRUTHERS, Ohio (WKBN) – Nearly a year after her father died, Aqua Ohio threatened to have one Struthers woman’s water shut off — all because she refused to pay his tenants’ bills.

Aqua Ohio said Sheri and Terry Foor had to pay over $400 for water they never used.

“They’re not even my bills, they never were. I never lived there,” Sheri said.

And yet, the water company sent three letters telling the Foors they had to pay up or their water would be turned off.

Last year, Sheri’s father, Barry Burke, died and left a sizeable estate. His estate included the Foors’ home in Struthers, which they now own.

Burke also owned three apartment buildings. The Foors took possession of their home before tenants ever left past due bills.

By rights, those unpaid bills should go to the estate.

Victor Russell, a financial advisor certified by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, counsels people on debt and how to manage it.

He said there’s no way the Foors should be on the hook for their father’s debt.

“Anything you signed with a spouse or cosigned with another individual, those are the loans you are responsible for. If it’s in their name and they pass away, you should not be liable for that.”

But that’s not what happened with the Foors’ Aqua Ohio bills.

“They tacked 400 some dollars on our water bill and said we need to pay it,” Terry said.

Through their attorney, the Foors sent documents, deeds of transfer, and proof that those new bills needed to be submitted to the estate in probate.

“I thought that had settled it and then they sent me a shut-off notice,” Sheri said.

Both Sheri and Terry are disabled and said that’s the only reason the company hasn’t turned off their service so far.

“I said, ‘But my attorney sent you the stuff for the estate. All you have to do is file a claim,'” Sheri said.

Otherwise, the water would get turned off and the Foors said they would be out in the street.

WKBN 27 First News called Aqua Ohio, who — until our phone call — had no idea Burke passed away. A spokesperson said the Foors will not have to pay the bill.

The company issued the following statement:

Thank you to WKBN for bringing this misunderstanding to our attention. While we cannot discuss specifics of Ms. Foor’s account, it appears that the main cause of the confusion was waiting more than a year to inform the Aqua of her father’s death. We are in the process of transferring the accounts for properties not occupied by Ms. Foor to Mr. Burke’s estate.

After someone dies, their utility accounts need to be dealt with:

  • Utilities should be notified of the death within a few weeks and definitely before past due balances grow.
  • Proof of death (death certificate) may be required.
  • Depending on the utility, you may choose to cancel accounts or have them transferred to the name of a survivor.
  • Cancellations or transfers can be completed by calling the utility’s customer service department. It will be helpful to have a copy of the most recent bill when you make the call.
  • If an account is transferred to your name, you will be responsible for payments.

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