When a family is grieving after the death of a loved one, the last thing any of them wants to deal with is unpaid debts and debt collectors.
nj.com’s recent article asks “Is mom liable for my dead father’s credit card debt?” The answer: generally, any unpaid debts are paid from the deceased person’s estate.
In many states, family members, including the surviving spouse, typically aren’t required to pay the debts from their own assets, unless they co-signed on the account or loan.
All the stuff that a person owns at the time of death, including everything from money in the bank to their possessions to debts they owe, is called an estate. When the deceased person has debt, the executor of the estate will go through the probate process.
During the probate process, all the deceased’s debts are paid off from the estate’s assets. Some assets—like retirement accounts, IRAs and life insurance proceeds—aren’t included in the probate process. As a result, these accounts may not be available to pay creditors. Other assets can be sold to pay off outstanding debts.
A relative or the estate executor will typically notify any lenders, like credit card companies, when that person passes away. The credit card company will then contact the executor about any balances due. Note: the creditor can’t add any additional fees, while the estate is being settled.
If there’s not enough money in the estate to cover credit card balances, the card issuer may have no recourse. The executor and the heirs aren’t responsible for these debts. Unlike some debts, like a mortgage or a car loan, most credit card debt isn’t secured. Therefore, the credit card company may need to write off that debt as a loss.
You should start learning about the probate process in your state to have the best defense for dealing with creditors and debt collectors.
If you need help, talk to an experienced estate planning attorney.