Will I be responsible for my deceased relative’s debt?

On Behalf of | May 7, 2024 | Probate And Estate Administration |

The stress of dealing with the recent death of a loved one may be compounded by worries that you will become responsible for the debts of your deceased family member. It may not be clear when you are on the hook for the unpaid obligations of someone you had a close or familial relationship with.

To sort out whether or not you will owe money to a creditor, you should know how debts are handled both in and out of probate.

Claims in probate

Generally, creditors must make claims against an estate to seek unpaid amounts in probate. It is the duty of an executor to pay the debts first, so if there are sizable debts in play, you might not receive some or even all of your inheritance if it has to go towards compensating creditors.

Still, it is possible there will be insufficient assets in the estate to cover all debts. However, you as a relative have no further obligation to pay, not unless you have made yourself directly responsible for a debt in some manner.

Joint accounts and co-signers

If you co-signed a loan or jointly held an account like a credit card with your loved one, you have a legal obligation to pay whatever balance remains. Therefore, a creditor can pursue you for that debt. This applies even if your relative primarily used the account or loan and not yourself.

Community property states

In community property states like California, debt incurred during a marriage generally becomes jointly owed by both spouses. However, living in Pennsylvania gives you an advantage since the state is not a community property state. So if your spouse has died, you are only legally liable for debts you directly incurred or co-signed.

The good news is that in many situations you will not be personally responsible for a deceased relative’s outstanding debts or bills, even if you are an heir receiving some of their assets. Creditors may still attempt to collect by contacting you, but you can remind them you have no legal obligation to pay those debts from your own funds.