Attorney & Mediator
Attorney & Mediator

Probate Matters: You are not Responsible for the Deceased’s Debts


When someone dies, they just as often leave debts as they do assets.  The family is concerned that they will be responsible for the debts of the deceased family member.

They will receive calls from bill collectors who try to shake them down for the money – threatening lawsuits and liens.  After all, that is their job, to get as much money on the outstanding bill as they can.

Generally speaking, a spouse or child is not responsible for the debts of their deceased spouse or parent.

You are only responsible for the debt if you co-signed for the loan or obligation.  This could be true on a mortgage or a credit card that is in both names.  If you have not co-signed, you are not responsible for the debt.

Sometimes a family will find that the assets of an estate are less than the debts that the deceased had.  In such a case, the only ones who will be benefitted by opening a probate estate are the creditors.  They will divide up the assets that are left.  In such a case, you as a family member do not have an obligation to open up a probate estate.  If the creditors want to open an estate to get paid, they may do so.  It is not up to you to do it for them.

The estate of a decedent consists of the property that he or she had in his or her own name alone at the time of death.  Therefore, the jointly owned property such as bank accounts or real estate (unless it has a mortgage) will simply pass to the family members outside of the probate court process.  All that will be left will be the assets in the deceased’s name and lots of debts.

If your parents have died, before you start paying bills, evaluate whether the debts of the estate are greater than the assets available.  If you are uncertain, call a Probate attorney and sit down for an evaluation of the estate and whether you should pay the claims.

Do not be bullied by creditors and bill collectors.  Call an attorney first – you may save thousands of dollars.