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Debts and Deceased Relatives

Does a debt go away when the debtor dies?

No. The estate of the deceased person owes the debt. If there isn't enough money in the estate to cover the debt, it typically goes unpaid. But there are exceptions to this rule. 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 legally obligated to pay a deceased person's debts from your own assets, talk to a lawyer.

Read more about Debts and Deceased Relatives at consumer.ftc.gov.

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

The person named in a will who is responsible for settling a deceased person's affairs is called the executor. If there is no will, the court may appoint an administrator, personal representative, or universal successor, and give them the authority to settle the affairs. In some states, others (or other people) may have that authority, even if they haven't been formally appointed by the court.

Whom may a debt collector talk to about a deceased person's debt?

Under the FDCPA, collectors can contact and discuss the deceased person's debts with that person's spouse, parent(s) (if the deceased was a minor child), guardian, executor, or administrator. Also, the FTC permits collectors to contact any other person authorized to pay debts with assets from the deceased person's estate. Debt collectors may not discuss the debts of deceased persons with anyone else.

Read more about Debts and Deceased Relatives at consumer.ftc.gov.

Frequently Asked Questions