Q&A: Who is Responsible for Debts After Someone Dies?

A reporter recently asked me the question:  “Who is Responsible for Debts After Someone Dies?”

After someone passes, family members typically have no obligation to pay the debts of the decedent from their sole and individual funds.  Debts of the decedent must be paid by the decedent’s probate estate or otherwise by assets passing from the decedent, as provided under state law.

Every state has a different law and these laws can change at any time, either by legislative action or a court case.  For instance, in Maryland, a creditor or debtor must file a claim within 6 months of death or the debt can be denied and not paid.  Another legal possibility is that a claim can be filed only against the probate estate, so assets that pass outside of probate, like a joint bank account, etc, could be free from attachment by an debtor or creditor.

There are situations in which a family member has accepted responsibility, before death, by being a co-applicant on a credit card or by saying so when the decedent went into a hospital or nursing home.  In those cases, that family member will very likely be liable for the debt.

Finally, if a family member inherits a house or car that has a secured debt, the family member will have to pay the secured debt, or else that creditor can foreclose or repossess the house or car.

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