Am I Responsible for My Deceased Parent or Spouse’s Bills?
By: Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
May 19, 2015
HAIMO: Generally speaking, you are not responsible for the debts of another person unless you actively agree to be responsible for those debts.
The weeks and months that follow death of a parent or spouse can be an emotional and stressful time. As you mourn the loss of your loved one, you may also have to worry about making funeral arrangements, gathering estate planning documents, and notifying family, friends, financial institutions, and government agencies.
As you go through the process of settling your affairs, you may be relieved to learn you probably don’t have a legal obligation to pay off your spouse’s or parent’s debts. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) makes it so surviving relatives generally are not required to pay off the debts of a deceased family member from their own assets. As a surviving relative, you are also protected by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), which makes it illegal for creditors to use unfair, aggressive, or deceptive methods to try and collect a debt from you.
Who is Responsible for My Deceased Parent or Spouse’s Bills?
So who pays off the debts that your spouse or parent may have had? Typically, the deceased person’s estate is responsible for paying the debt. However, if there isn’t enough money in the estate to cover the debts, they may go unpaid.
In most cases, you will not be required to cover your deceased parent or spouse’s bills, but there are certain exceptions.
You may be responsible for the debts of a recently passed individual if you contractually obligated yourself with the creditor. For instance, if you cosigned on your spouse or parent’s credit contract, both of you made a promise to be responsible for the debt. In this situation, you may be required to pay the debt if the other co-signer cannot. Essentially, your duty to pay a debt you cosigned on survives your deceased spouse or parent’s debt.
What Should I Do if a Debt Collector Contacts Me?
If a creditor or debt collection agency contacts you about a debt owed by your deceased spouse or parent, you can give them the contact information of their estate’s Executor, or Personal Representative in Florida. The Executor, or Personal Representative in Florida, is the person that your family member named on his or her will to settle their affairs, which includes paying any outstanding debts from their assets. If there is no will, someone will be appointed as Executor or Personal Representative to process the estate.
Determining what debts must be paid after the passing of a loved one can be a complex, stressful, and confusing affair. If you are uncertain of your legal responsibilities after a death of a parent or spouse, it’s highly advisable to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney.
Your attorney can help you understand your rights and responsibilities, and stand up for your rights in the face of aggressive collectors. And if you have been named executor or personal representative of your loved one’s estate, your attorney can help you navigate the process of settling their estate and paying off appropriate debts from their assets.
Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
Strategic Planning With Purpose
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