Local Woman Dealing With Tragedy, Battling Florida Finance Firm
WEST SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WGGB) — A local family’s loss is being compounded by Florida law, now they are fighting back.
Just hours after Emily Vassilopouslos’s dad, Doug Morton, died of a heart attack, the local loan company in Florida ordered his truck be repossessed.
“His co-workers stopped them, locked the truck, and called the police,” Vassilopouslos said.
Florida law says a creditor has legal authority to seize a car when the owner defaults on payment.
The Clearwater, Fla. investigating officer who responded to the call wrote in his report that the loan company acknowledged Morton was not behind on payments, and that the company was just afraid his family wouldn’t pay the $4,000 left on the loan.
“All I had time to do was have my dad get cremated, drive back up here,” Vassilopouslos said.
The police told Nicholas Financial to contact Vassilopouslos before making any moves on the truck because it was not delinquent. Instead, just hours after Vassilopouslos arrived home to West Springfield with the truck and her dad’s belongings, Nicholas Financial had the truck towed to Ernie’s Towing in Northampton.
Just four days later, the truck went up for auction. Vassilopouslos says all she asked for was some time to settle the estate while she buried her dad.
“I can’t even begin to explain,” Vassilopouslos said. “It’s just been an emotional roller coaster really. I try to keep it together as good as I can, you know, but it’s been very, very, very frustrating.”
At one point, Vassilopouslos even had a hard time getting her father’s military discharge and death certificate papers out of the truck after it was repossessed and seized. They, along with sentimental items, were locked in the car when it was towed.
Now Vassilopouslos is hiring a Florida attorney to handle the case.
“In Massachusetts, they couldn’t have done that,” Attorney Susan Arnold Mielnikowski said. “They would have needed to notify the estate and give 21 days notice.”
Mielnikowksi says each state has different probate laws, but that it’s critical to plan ahead and then slowly make decisions when tragedy strikes.
“Putting somebody else on the title might be a good idea ahead of time,” Mielnikowski said. “To the extent that somebody passes away and they own a car and your interest is to gain that car as an heir, you should talk to a probate attorney and get the probate up and running as quickly as possible so that you have rights on behalf of the estate.”
Something Vassilopouslos is now battling as she lays her dad to rest.
Nicholas Financial had no comment, saying they legally cannot discuss individual claims.