Q&A: Paying a deceased person’s debts

Dear Liz: When I read the letter from the woman about her mother’s debts, it brought back my situation with my brother and mom. My brother was trustee to my mother’s living will and told her she had no money. At 90, she became worried and wanted to cut back on the care she needed. My brother had the same attitude as the woman who wrote you that her mother’s property was not an asset for her to use but something to be hoarded for the heirs.

Answer: That’s not the situation the daughter described. She was asking whether she and her sister were responsible for her mother’s debts. They are not. The mother’s estate would be responsible, and her estate would include her home. If the estate’s assets aren’t sufficient to pay all the bills, however, the creditors wouldn’t be able to come after the daughters. Still, some collection agencies have been known to contact survivors, telling them they have a “moral obligation” to pay the dead person’s debts.


  1. Thomas Farrow says

    Dear Liz,
    4 years ago I married a lady from Russia. She is not a US citizen yet but intends to become one.
    I worked for the CA State Dept. of Corrections for 27 year and am subject to WEP provisions. I receive $405 monthly from Soc. Sec. based on 9 years employment in the private sector before I joined the Dept. My question is when I pass on will my wife be eligible for any Soc. Sec. benefits??

    • As long as your bride is here legally, she doesn’t have to be a citizen to get survivor benefits. But if you’re subject to WEP and she can continue your pension, GPO would reduce her Social Security benefit by two-thirds of the pension payment.