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Dear Liz: My oldest sister died recently. She owed a fair amount of credit card debt. She willed her condominium and the rest of her estate to my brother. Must my brother pay my sister’s debts from what he receives after he sells the condo, or are those debts considered closed?

Answer: Creditors typically must be paid before the remainder of an estate can be distributed to any heirs. That’s true even if specific items or dollar amounts are willed to specific people — they get what’s left only after the creditors get their share. If there isn’t enough money in the estate to pay the creditors in full, the executor of the estate is responsible for arranging settlements and the heirs typically get nothing.

Since it sounds as if your brother is also the executor, he would be wise to consult an attorney at this point. Executors can be held personally responsible — and sued — for any mistakes made in settling an estate.

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