Am I responsible for the debts of my recently deceased family member?
When a family member passes away after time in a hospital or other long-term care facility, the stress of settling and closing the family member’s estate is often overwhelming. In addition to funeral arrangements, it can be difficult to understand what happens next, and how your family member’s debts and medical expenses will get paid. Continue reading to receive a short introduction to the obligations of family members and heirs when a person passes away.
In general, when a person passes away that person leaves behind property and assets, otherwise known as the decedent’s estate. The decedent’s estate is responsible for paying the debts of the decedent prior to the distribution of assets to heirs and beneficiaries. For example, in a simple situation the decedent has created a will but not used any other estate planning tools like a trust. The estate can consist of many kinds of property. Common kinds of property included in a person’s estate are a house or other real estate, cars or other vehicles, checking and savings accounts, investments, and much more. The value of all the property in the estate is used to pay the decedent’s secured and unsecured debts, and whatever is left over can be distributed to the heirs or beneficiaries of the will. Secured debts must be repaid by the estate, or the asset will be repossessed. Unsecured debts are the next priority after secured debts. However, sometimes an estate does not have enough to pay all of the decedent’s debts. This can occur when a decedent has a substantial amount of debt or incurred a significant amount of medical care and related expenses.
If you are a non-spousal family member of the decedent, it is not likely that you are responsible to pay for unsecured debts, like medical bills and credit cards. However, you may be liable for some portion of the decedent’s debts if you shared an account, or co-signed an account, with the decedent. Similarly, if you are an heir or beneficiary of the decedent’s will, you are unlikely to be obligated to pay for the decedent’s unsecured debts because heirs or beneficiaries receive what is left over from the decedent’s estate net debts and expenses, after the probate process has been completed.
Now that you know a little more about the obligations of non-spousal family members to pay a decedent’s debts, you may have questions about your own situation and the process of settling an estate. Legal blog posts can serve as an introduction to legal topics but should never be considered legal advice. Contact an attorney at Kelly & Brand, Attorneys at Law, LLC for personalized legal advice.