Parents learn difficult lesson on loans after son's death

August 16, 2010

Christopher Bryski of Marlton, New Jersey, was in his third year at Rutgers University when he suffered a traumatic brain injury during a recreational accident.

"You get that phone call and in a matter of minutes your entire life has changed," Diane Bryski, Christopher's mother, said.

Christopher died in July of 2006 after being in a vegetative state for two years.

Even though Christopher was a dependent of his parents, because they did not have durable power of attorney, they had to go through the painful process of applying for guardianship of their son so they could make necessary medical and financial decisions.

"Something that's so simple to do you may never need it, but if it's there, it saves so much heartache in this sort of a situation," Diane said.

The Bryskis also learned a lot about private student loans.

Even while Christopher was lying in the hospital, banks were calling about repayment of those loans for which his father had co-signed.

While the government forgives federal loans if a student dies or is disabled, lenders of private student loans are not required to do so.

In fact, they can bury language in the loan agreement that requires co-signers pay the balance in full immediately upon the original borrower's death.

"Everyone's vulnerable because is there is no requirement out there," Christopher's father, Ryan Bryski, said.

Christopher's father had retired before his son's death, but he's now back at work to pay off tens of thousands of dollars for which he is now solely responsible.

But this financial nightmare could have been prevented.

"It's not something that you want to think about beforehand, but you have to," Ryan said.

Families who take out private student loans should consider credit insurance, which covers repayment of loans in the event of death or disability.

They can also shop around for private student loans with forgiveness policies in the case of the original borrower's death.

"Parents just don't think about that and then you're handed this situation," Diane said.

"We can't avoid all the tragedies of life, but we can certainly legislate in ways that give parents information on how to avoid some of the risks financially," New Jersey Representative John Adler said.

The Bryski's story inspired Representative Adler to introduced Christopher's Law. It would require banks and other private lenders to provide information to co-signers about power of attorney, credit insurance, and the co-signers' obligations if the student dies or is incapacitated.

The Bryskis say Christopher's Law is the best way to honor their son's memory.

"He's smiling down and knowing that we're doing the right thing and we hope that other people feel that way, too, we think they will," Diane said.


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