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Debts and Deceased Relatives

Money & Debt

This article, excerpted from material created by the Federal Trade Commission, tells how the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) protects survivors from the debts of deceased relatives.

Does a debt go away when the debtor dies?

No. The deceased person's estate owes the debt. If there isn't enough money left cover the debt, it may go unpaid. You may be responsible for the debt if you:

  • co-signed the obligation;
  • live in a community property state, such as California;
  • are the deceased person's spouse and state law requires you to pay a particular type of debt, like some health care expenses; or
  • were legally responsible for resolving the estate and didn't comply with certain state probate laws.

If you have questions about whether you are obligated to pay a deceased person's debts from your own assets, talk to a lawyer.

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Who has the authority to pay the deceased person's debt out of his or her assets?

The person who is responsible for settling a deceased person's affairs. If they died without a will, that person is called an executor. If there is no will, learn more here: Probating an Estate Without a Will.

Can a debt collector talk to me about a deceased person's debt?

Under the FDCPA, collectors can contact and discuss a deceased person's debts with their:

  • surviving spouse, 
  • parents (if the deceased was a minor),
  • guardian,
  • executor,  and
  • any other person authorized to pay debts with assets from the deceased person's estate. 

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