Responsibility for a Deceased Relative’s Debts

The loss of a loved one is tough to begin with, but if the loved one left debts behind, it can be even tougher. Family members generally should not have to pay for a decedent’s debts, but it is important to know your rights because collection agencies may target the decedent’s relatives.

Usually the loved one’s estate is responsible for paying any debts. If the estate does not have enough money, the debts will go unpaid. The debt collectors may not collect payment from relatives (unless they were co-signers or guarantors). However, if you are the spouse of the decedent, you may have responsibility for any debts that were jointly held. Depending on state law, some assets — such as a house or car — may be exempt from debt collection. To determine your responsibility, if any, please email the Elder Law Center or call 630-844-0065.

If a debt collector contacts you, give the collector the contact information for the personal representative (also called the“executor”) who is handling the estate. It is the personal representative’s responsibility to make sure all bills are paid. Whatever you do, do not give any personal information to debt collectors. Scam artists sometimes pose as debt collectors to prey on relatives.

If a debt collector won’t stop contacting you, send a certified letter to the collector saying you do not want to be contacted again. Once the collector receives the letter, the collector can contact you only to tell you that there will be no further contact or to inform you of a lawsuit. Report any problems with debt collectors to your state’s attorney general or to the Federal Trade Commission.

Related article: “Are Children Responsible for Their Parents’ Debts?”

The Elder Law Center is located in Aurora, IL, Kane County, in the Chicago Western Suburbs.

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