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Who’s responsible for a dead person’s debts?

Aug 11, 2009 | | Comments Comments Off

Waverly Graveyard
Creative Commons License photo credit: bhamsandwich

The answer is: the dead person’s estate. But many family members mourning the loss of a loved one complain they’ve been harassed by aggressive collection agents who often say the mourners have a “moral” or even a legal duty to pay the bills.

The New York Times wrote about these collections, and the Federal Trade Commission has responded with a consumer alert clarifying the issue. An excerpt:

  • Who is responsible for paying the debts of a relative who has died?
    Generally, someone’s estate is responsible for paying their debts. But if there isn’t enough in the estate to cover the debts, they typically go unpaid.
  • Am I legally obligated to pay the debts of a deceased relative?
    You usually don’t have a legal obligation to pay the debts of a deceased relative who was not your spouse. Even a spouse’s obligation to pay may be limited under state probate law. To determine whether you’re legally obligated to pay, talk to an attorney who is knowledgeable about this area of the law.
  • What should I do if a debt collector contacts me about a debt of a relative who has died?
    Give the debt collector the contact information of the decedent’s personal representative. That’s the person responsible for settling their affairs, including paying any outstanding debts from the estate. If there is a will, the personal representative is known as the executor; if there is no will, the personal representative is known as the administrator. Don’t give any of your personal information, like your Social Security number, birth date, or financial account numbers to anyone unless you know who you’re dealing with. Some con artists may check obituaries and other legal notices, and then contact relatives of a deceased posing as debt collectors. These scam artists can use your personal information to help them commit identity theft or other types of fraud.

For more, you can read the FTC’s alert by CLICKING HERE.

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