Richard died in 2014. As time went on, the cheery greeting — “Hi, Richard!” — made Judith a little sad. So last year, she contacted Verizon and asked them to change the name on the bill to hers.
Cellphone companies such as Verizon offer an important product. I’m not one of those people who likes to dump on them for sheer sport. (I save that for cable companies.) I know that Verizon and its competitors have to deal with deadbeat customers and scammers and criminals who crash their vans into stores late at night and scoop up armfuls of phones.
But when a customer calls you and says, “My husband Richard is dead. Can you take his name off the bill and change it to mine?” then I think a little care is called for.
Judith had to produce Richard’s death certificate. (Again, I get it. People probably fake death all the time to get out of their contracts.) Even so, Judith said, the bill kept coming “Hi, Richard!”
Eventually, a Verizon representative promised Judith that things would soon be straightened out. The bill would start coming in her name. One other thing: The bill would be $5 more a month. The package that Richard had was no longer being offered.
“He was grandfathered, I am not,” Judith said. “It just seems to me so uncaring.”
I emailed Verizon and asked if this was standard procedure. Was there a simpler way to fix the problem? A company representative emailed back that a Verizon team had been in touch with Judith and was able to “reach out and resolve the issue.” He included a link to the Verizon Web page on managing an account after a loved one passes away.
Judith told me that after our conversation, a very solicitous Verizon rep called her. Judith said she has been switched to an autopay account that is $10 a month cheaper than her old rate.
I’d like to think Verizon would do that for anyone in a similar situation, not just someone who involved a member of the press.
“I can’t wait to get a bill that says, ‘Hi, Judith,’ ” Judith said. “Then I’ll know it’s finally settled.”
The fact is, no massive, faceless corporation wants to be seen as a massive, faceless corporation. That’s why so many spend so much money on branding campaigns that are meant to make customers feel warm and fuzzy toward them.
But there are drawbacks to this approach. A bill may read like a letter from a friend, but it’s not. It’s a demand for money. I wonder whether it would be better for everyone if that’s how they were written.
Dead letter office
Is death final? Not when it comes to bills, bureaucracy and fundraising mailings.
My mother-in-law died 15 years ago. Kathy never lived with us, but after her death, My Lovely Wife had her mail forwarded here as she took care of the estate.
It’s nearly impossible to notify every single group that has your address on some mailing list. I’d expect that after 15 years, charities that Kathy was involved with would realize she hadn’t made a donation in quite some time. And yet, a few keep coming. (I’m looking at you, Colonial Williamsburg.)
My father-in-law, Bill, died in 1999. We thought his estate was buttoned up years ago, then in 2018 we spotted his name on one of those unclaimed property lists that state governments publish.
My wife, Ruth, looked into it. It turned out that the publisher of an engineering textbook that Bill co-authored had some royalties to distribute. Not a lot: about $40 a year. Getting it required pulling out all sorts of documents: death certificates, powers of attorney, old letters that had to be newly notarized.
Last week, Ruth finally got everything together and sent it off. Fingers crossed.
The final countdown
What’s the longest or strangest life-after-death experience you’ve had involving bureaucracy? Send it — with “Life After Death” in the subject line — to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/john-kelly.