Death doesn't stop legal obligations of timeshare

SHORELINE, Wash. — Since the great recession began, bills have been piling up for many.

But when a Shoreline woman started receiving bills, collection letters and calls, she contacted KIRO 7, because the bills were for her dead son's timeshare.

Consumer Investigator Amy Clancy started digging and soon learned death doesn't always mean the end of a timeshare.

A woman, the mother of Clancy’s co-worker, told Clancy she did everything she was told to do by timeshare company WorldMark to put an end to her dead son’s membership and the bills.  But Clancy learned that was easier said than done.

Mary Gronlund of Shoreline misses her son.

"David was wonderful."

David Gronlund, 53, died unexpectedly last summer after elective surgery.

While settling her son's affairs as executor, Mary tried to cancel David's WorldMark timeshare vacation membership and claims she was told to simply send WorldMark a copy of his death certificate.

“A death certificate was sent to them,” said Mary.

But two and a half months after David died, a letter arrived.

“They wanted payment. It was overdue,” said Mary.

Two months later, the grieving mother received another letter, this time addressed to David Gronlund's "estate."  It read: "we have not been able to contact you" and again asked for payment.

Within weeks, there were more letters, requesting not only payments, but past due charges.  Then, two collections companies demanded the balance due on Gronlund's timeshare, nearly $13,000, through letters and phone calls.

“She said, ‘Well, his estate is responsible for that.’  And I have heard that since then, that when you join one of these timeshare things, that there are some you just can’t quit,” said Mary.

That is the case, according to Seattle lawyer Doug Wheeler, who represents both consumers and timeshare companies in such disputes.

“If you bought a perpetual timeshare, it’s like owning a piece of real estate.  It is, in fact, a piece of real estate. It will pass down through your family until someone sells it or it’s repossessed or whatever.  That is something I think a lot of people don’t appreciate when they buy it,” said Wheeler.

A WorldMark spokeswoman confirms to KIRO 7 if a member dies, the membership goes to a spouse.   If the owner is single, it transfers to heirs.

If there's no surviving spouse or heirs, the executor will receive notice of the balance due.

But if the balance is not paid, "the contract will be canceled when a death certificate is received."

However, that isn't what happened in the case of David Gronlund until after KIRO 7 contacted WorldMark.

In response to our questions, the company "identified a system error, which delayed the cancelation process, and inadvertently caused Ms. Gronlund to be contacted."

WorldMark offered Mary Gronlund an apology and a free 3-night stay for her trouble, but she told KIRO 7 Consumer Investigators "no thanks."

She just wants the situation to go away and for others to know if a loved one buys a timeshare, surviving family members are financially on the hook.

“They expect anyone who inherits the estate to pay for it,” said Gronlund.

“For how long?” asked Clancy.

“Until it’s paid up, I think its forever.”

Clancy spoke with three lawyers who all advised to ask questions before buying a timeshare such as, ‘What happens when I die?  How long does this membership last? Who’s responsible if something happens to me?’ and get the answers in writing, because you could be saddling your family with something they don’t want or can’t pay for.

As part of her research, Clancy filed a public records request with the Washington State Attorney General's office a received more than a thousand pages of consumer complaints filed against WorldMark.  Not one complaint dealt with death; most detailed concerns with high pressure sales or attempts to cancel.   See more information here

For more information from WorldMark, click here.

Timeshare attorney Doug Wheeler recommends this site for more information about timeshares: