Managing Debt

Debt After Death: 10 Things You Need to Know

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Coping with the death of a loved one is difficult enough without the added pressure of creditors calling you to collect on the deceased person’s credit card debt. But can a bank collect a credit card debt owed by your deceased parent or spouse?

The answer depends on a range of factors, from whether it was a joint account to where the deceased person lived.

Here are some questions — and answers — about what happens to bills after someone dies.

1. Are Family, Friends or Heirs Responsible For Debts?

When you take out a credit card in your name, you’re agreeing to repay whatever you borrow. Whether you’re alive or dead, that obligation doesn’t extend to your family, friends or, in most cases, even your spouse.

In short, while your heirs can inherit your worldly possessions, they don’t inherit your credit card balances and they don’t have to pay them. Exception? If someone else was jointly liable on the debt with you. Joint account holders are generally fully responsible for the entire debt, even if all the charges were made by only one of them.

The fact that your heirs aren’t responsible for your debts, however, doesn’t mean your creditors won’t try to collect from them.

2. Direct Creditors To the Executor

While heirs or family typically aren’t responsible for your debts when you die, that doesn’t mean they just go away. Instead, the obligation transfers from you to your estate.

When a person dies, their estate is born. That estate will have someone, known as the executor or administrator, who will be designated by the will and affirmed by a court to handle all financial issues of the deceased, including their debts.

If you’re not in charge of an estate and get a debt collection request, direct the caller to the executor, then tell the caller you don’t want to be contacted about that debt again.

3. Notify Creditors and Credit Bureaus

The executor of the estate should notify creditors as soon as possible of the death. They should also notify the big three credit reporting agencies – Experian, Equifax and TransUnion – and request the account be flagged with the statement “Deceased: Do not issue credit.” This will help prevent an all-too-common problem: identity theft of the dead.

The executor should also request a copy of the deceased’s credit report. This is the best way to find out exactly what debts were outstanding.

Here’s the process, in the words of TransUnion:

Step One: Contact all creditors that the deceased person(s) did business with and request that they mark their files accordingly. Be sure to forward a copy of the death certificate, once you receive it.

Step Two: Check with the Social Security Administration to ensure that they have updated their files and notified the credit reporting companies.

Step Three: Forward a copy of the death certificate to all three credit reporting companies. Mail your information to:

TransUnion LLC
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19022

P.O. Box 2002
Allen, TX 75013

P.O. Box 740260
Atlanta, GA 30374

Remember to send certified letters when corresponding with credit bureaus or individual companies and keep copies.

4. Find Out Who’s Responsible

As mentioned above, people who request credit together are equally responsible for the entire debt. The same is true with a co-signer, who essentially guarantees the debt of the borrower. If the borrower dies, the co-signer becomes liable.

Authorized signers or additional cardholders on credit card accounts, however, aren’t liable. They didn’t originally apply for the credit; they were just allowed to “piggyback” on the account of the person who did. If that person dies, the authorized signers aren’t generally on the hook.

5. Stop Using Credit Accounts

If you are an authorized user on a credit card account, don’t continue to use the card after the main cardholder dies. Because you’re not liable for the debt, this could be considered fraud.

A surviving spouse can ask for a card to be issued in his or her own name. It will most likely be a new card application, based on the survivor’s credit history, income, etc. (You can check your credit scores for free on to see where you stand.)

6. Don’t Split Up All the Belongings Yet

It’s natural to think that you should immediately start giving Grandma’s antiques and jewelry away. But expert Gerri Detweiler says it’s a good idea to wait.

Only after the estate has settled its debts should the assets be distributed. Distribute stuff beforehand, and should the estate not have enough to pay its debts, the heirs could become responsible for the debt.

7. Ask Creditors For Help

If a surviving spouse is a joint account holder on the deceased’s credit card and is having trouble paying the bills, that person may be able to work something out with creditors.

Ask for options to give you time to get organized.

8. Community Property States Are Different

If you live in a community property state, forget what you read in No. 1 above. Your rules are different.

In a community property state (Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin and, if you choose it, Alaska) one spouse can be liable for the debts of another, even if they didn’t agree to them or even know about them. So in a community property state you may be on the hook for the credit card debt of a deceased spouse.

9. If An Estate Can’t Pay, the Lenders Lose

Sometimes the estate has more debts than assets to pay them. If no one else can be found responsible for the debt, creditors will be forced to write it off.

10. When in Doubt, Contact an Attorney

This stuff can get complicated, especially when community property law is in place. Contact a consumer law attorney or probate attorney to get help.

Stacy Johnson contributed to this report. This post originally appeared on Money Talks News.

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  • Gerri Detweiler

    You may also want to help him set up an appointment with a consumer law attorney. If they are violating the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, he may not have to pay for the attorney’s fees – the collector would have to pay them. At any rate, the first consultation will likely be free or at low cost. Another alternative would be to help him file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

  • Miss Mason

    hello my aunt passed away and has a home that is bank financed can i take over the payments or does the bank sell the house will i have to go through a credit check or put up a down payment. she has no will and no biological children but she did raise me after my mother passed when i was 11 in 1989. i know she was my legal guardian but i dont know if she took the steps to legally adopt me.

    • Gerri Detweiler

      It’s impossible for me to say whether you will be able to keep her house. Who is managing her affairs/estate? If it is falling to you, I would really encourage you to talk with an estate planning attorney to discuss your options for keeping her home. Unless you are a spouse or co-owner of the home it’s not as simple as continuing to make the payments.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Ugh! Have you tried to find out who regulates this utility company? It may be your state public utility commission. I suggest you contact them to see if they can help. If they won’t, let us know.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    While I’d like to be able to tell you exactly what to do, probate procedures vary significantly by state. And while you may not be able to keep the small amount of money left, if there is a creditor in line ahead of you for that money. However, there also may be legitimate expenses that must be paid before the creditor gets paid. There is some helpful information on small estates in New York here:

  • George

    My hello, my mother opened up a home equity line of credit. I was added as an authorized user on a joint checking account. I was appointed power of attorney and made transfers from HELOC to checking account for my mother. If she passes away, do I still have access to the HELOC in transferring funds to pay off bills such as funeral expenses after her passing? The heloc is only under my mothers name.only.

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Do not use the funds in the HELOC after her death without consulting an attorney.

      It sounds like you are concerned about her funeral expenses. Can she prepay those now before her death? That seems like a safer and more legitimate way to go.

  • Betty

    Is there any way that I can have my name off of a mortgage with my ex-husband without refinancing? Also, do banks sometimes accept an amount below the balance if paid with a lump sum?
    Thank you

    • Gerri Detweiler

      It is very doubtful you can get your name removed without your husband refinancing. Lump sum mortgage settlements are very rare because these debts have usually been packaged and sold to investors. If you need to disassociate yourself from this loan I recommend you talk with a consumer bankruptcy attorney. That may be your only option, but if there are others the attorney can discuss them with you.

      • Betty

        Thank you for replying….Another question if I may…if my ex leaves the condo to me in his will and I decide not to pay the mortgage and it goes into foreclosure, will that affect my credit score?



    • Gerri Detweiler

      Have you tried another lender? It’s hard to know exactly what the problem is but there may be another lender willing to finance it for you.

  • Shey

    My Mom died owing state taxes. I have received the last SS check as beneficiary. I assume I can keep that money in lieu of putting into her estate? Her other assets like $ from car sale went into the estate.

  • Kali Geldis

    Hi Dolly —

    We actually just wrote about this issue last week:

    Even though your name isn’t on the account, you should be able to get access since you own the title to the home with the loan and the loan’s account holder has passed away. Reach out to the lender and figure out next steps for the loan. You may be able to address the payments issue with some of the options explained in the story I linked to.

  • Credit Experts

    Karla —
    Our condolences on the loss of your father.

    This post may help you to locate the current owners of your late father’s debts. How to Figure Out Who Your Debt Collector Is

    • Karla Stover

      If we are unable to locate the collector what do we do with the funds?

      • Credit Experts

        Karla —
        We’re not lawyers, nor are we familiar with estate laws in every state. Checking with a lawyer who is familiar with your state estate and consumer laws seems like a wise course. We cannot recommend that you take money that you believe to be owed to someone else.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    I am sorry Hanah – we don’t have the expertise to answer these questions. We suggest you consult a tax professional in your area. This is a significant amount of money and you’ll want to make sure it is handled properly.

  • Sristy

    I lost my father 9 June 2014,before he died he had an fire incident in bank warehouse, on 31 may 2014,he wasn’t able to tolerate this,he had too many bank loan,n there is few stocks of good left yet,so we are sealing those goods and paying bank debts,but now the bank is forcing us to take laibality , insurance on fire money is not adjusted by the bank yet,if we take laibality than we need to pay a huge amount monthly,which is not possible for us,n if not than my dad have given morgage to back,which is so many,and we are planning to stop the account by sealing our others property,like we won’t bear any installment just we ll give all amount together,but we ll need time to sale but the bank is not understanding, and now he is not giving us the good to sale.

    • Gerri Detweiler

      We are sorry for your loss. Unfortunately we don’t understand your question. Have you spoken with an attorney? It sounds like that should be the next step.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Amber – we are working on your question.

  • Sadie

    I have a friend who has no family. She has named me as the beneficiary on life insurance, 401k, etc. I’ve been added to her checking and savings accounts. She purchased a 2012 SUV and says death benefits are included in her payment so that when she dies it will be paid off and become mine. I’m trying to help her as much as possible but want to know 1) will there be taxes due on everything I’m listed on as beneficiary? 2) 401k – can that be rolled into my current one? 3) what about the car? 4) what about her apartment, utilities, etc. and 5) who will do her taxes etc.?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Does she have a will and has she named you as executor? The will determines who goes property without a named beneficiary. If you are her beneficiary in her will then whether there will be taxes depends on the size of the estate but unless he has a large estate it’s probably not an issue.

      The executor will need to file a final tax return for the estate.

      Generally the life insurance and 401(k) can pass to named beneficiaries directly without going through probate.

      Her apartment lease and utilities will likely be terminated on her death. The executor will likely need to provide a death certificate. If there are balances owed, the landlord and/or utility companies may try to collect from the estate if there is one.

      With the IRA generally the named beneficiary can roll it over into an inherited IRA without paying taxes, but once the beneficiary starts withdrawing those funds they will be taxable. A Roth IRA is different. though, since those funds were put in pre-tax.

      These are very general guidelines so please don’t take them as tax or financial planning advice. It sounds like your friend hopes to leave you as much as she can, so it also doesn’t sound like she would object to you asking her these questions so that her affairs are taken care of as she wishes after her death. You may want to make an appointment with an estate planning attorney or financial planner to make sure everything is in order and that you understand your responsibilities and the financial implications.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    It sounds like you hired an attorney to help so you may want to ask them whether it is worth pursuing. It may depend on whether the bank would be liable for damages as a result of their actions. If not, you could at least consider filing a complaint against the bank with the Consumer Financial Protection Agency and/or the bank’s regulator.

    Our condolences for your loss.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    It would not hurt to get a couple of real estate agents to give you an assessment of the value of the property. You shouldn’t have to pay for that, and it may help you understand what you’re looking at. As far as the rest of your situation, since you are going to be disposing or her property one way or the other, it would be a good idea to consult with an estate planning attorney to find out what you need to do. Probate procedures vary by state and you want to make sure you follow the proper procedures.

    Our condolences for your loss.

  • Melissa

    My father-in law’s wife passed and left no will. They live in Texas. He was wondering if, instead of continuing to pay for the house they both occupied, can he allow the bank to foreclose on the house? Will he incur any tax issues? The idea is the bank can’t go after the deceased. The house was in her name, and he wants to deny the bank giving it over to him as he no longer wants to live in the house.

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Texas is a community property state so I would be concerned about whether there are potential repercussions for him. Can you get him to talk with an estate planning attorney to make sure he doesn’t create additional problems for himself?

  • Gerri Detweiler

    If the truck is registered to the company that may change things. Talk with the lender about what is needed to get it switched over, and condolences for your family’s loss.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    If he’s broke then my recommendation is he talk with a consumer bankruptcy attorney. The attorney will explain to him what he needs to do to walk away from his home without financial repercussions.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    If she named beneficiaries for her life insurance policy (and didn’t leave them to her estate) then the beneficiaries can use the for whatever they want. If there is an estate, the creditors may try to collect from it, but if there isn’t anything of value they may not get paid.

    Our condolences for your family’s loss.

    • joho9119

      Thank you Gerri. It is good to know that my parents won’t have to go into debt to pay for her funeral. I appreciate the great article and advice!

      • Gerri Detweiler

        Glad it is helpful.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Our sincere condolences and so sorry to hear what a difficult time you are having with the bank.

    The Credit CARD Act put a stop to issuers adding fees and interest after death if the administrator pays off the debt within 30 days but I honestly don’t know how that works with HELOC’s in Florida. However, given that the house is in foreclosure it would be wise for you to consult with an attorney to find out what the best course of action is for dealing with this house. If you try to do it yourself my concern is it could wind up taking you twice as long and that some glitch in the process ends up costing you more time and money.

  • Linda

    Hi I have a question my sister just passed away and lives in PA, Her credit card has 6,000 in outstanding credit debt.(Her name only) She has a life insurance policy. They are paying on there home. Her husband is the beneficery for her life insurance. Can the creditiors collect from her life insurance to pay off her credit card? thank you

    • Gerri Detweiler

      If her husband was the beneficiary on her life insurance policy it’s my understanding he can do what he wants with that money. If she named her estate as a beneficiary then the benefits would go to the estate and could be available to creditors.

      I should point out, though, that if the credit card was a joint account with her husband then they are entitled to try to continue to try to collect from him. And our condolences to your family.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Manny – Your mom may be able to get answers through the Texas Consumer Complaint Center. If not, they may be able to refer her to Legal Aid. So sorry for you loss.

  • LaurieSue

    My aunt passed away recently. Never married, no children. I am her niece, and was added to her bank account to handle the money as she was dying. She left about 1200.00 and had nothing else of value. No home, no car, etc. No debt, just some possible bills from Medicare that are coming in. I still have to pay some of the people that helped her while dying; caretakers, etc. If there isn’t enough money to pay everyone, or the medical bills, am I liable for them?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Not unless you were a cosigner. You are not personally responsible for her debts just because she added you to her bank account. Our condolences for your loss.

  • Susan

    My grandfather left a home to me and my 2 younger siblings. I currently live there with my two kids, and have for the past two years. They want the house sold, because they want to make a profit off of it, but I don’t want to sell it; I grew up in that house, and so have my kids. Can they force me out of the home? Also, my grandfather has some credit card debt and a car loan (car was taken by the bank) that still have not been paid; when the house is sold, will the creditors get what they can to pay those debts off? Also, do these loans continue to gain interest even after someone is deceased?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      If you all equally inherited the home, then your siblings are entitled to their share of the home and they may be able to take legal action to force a sale. Is it possible for you to get a mortgage loan and buy them out? Or work out a payment plan with them where you pay them their share of the proceeds as if it were a loan?

      As far as creditors go, if the home equity is part of the estate then they may be entitled to go after that home equity to collect their share. Yes, interest and fees may continue to accumulate (how much depends on state law). Though at this stage it’s hard to say whether they will still pursue it; they may have written it off.

      It would be wise for you to meet with an attorney to go over your options and find out if there is a way to keep the home, resolve any remaining debts, and to allow your siblings to get the share of the estate to which they are entitled.

      • Susan

        I do not qualify to get a loan because my credit score is not high enough, due to medical bills that went to collections. He passed away 6 years ago, so I don’t know if the debts are written off at this point or not. My uncle is the executor, and hasn’t received anything either about those debts since he passed away. I don’t think they would be on board for me to work out a payment plan with them; I grew up in this home, and have paid for everything to maintain the home, including taxes, without even asking them. I need a couple more years to have my credit score good to where I can move out of the house–I don’t think that is too much to ask, and they are wanting to sell the home. I don’t know what to do.

        • Gerri Detweiler

          Susan – I am not sure what to tell you. If they are pressing for a sale then you may need to stall it to buy the time you need. If they aren’t, then maybe you can hang on long enough to get to where you need to be. Short of suggesting you talk with an attorney I am not sure what kind of advice I can give that will be helpful.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    I have no idea if you will be able to access the funds right away. I would imagine it depends on the probate process in your state.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Not that we know of. New York is an equitable distribution state not a community property state, so we doubt you will be directly liable. If there is an estate they may try to collect from it. We’re not consumer law attorneys, however, so we’ll have to suggest you talk with an attorney for legal advice.

  • AddisonDewitt

    My sister died 4/2014. I am her only heir. She left no will but had no assets at all, living on disability while she died of cancer. I received her 401K and life insurance. She left about 15K in credit card debt. Only one creditors filed a “statement of claim” for about $2K. A week after she died her tax refund checks were sent to her. $550 from the Feds and $250 from State of Cal. I have done nothing with these checks, I have them sitting in an envelope. If I make claim for her tax refunds will I be bound to pay her debtor (who made the “statement of claim”) with the tax refund money or is it legally mine, as her only heir. If I did make a claim for the money how will the credit card company know ? And will they come after me to pay it back to them ? If that is the case I do not want to involve myself and I will just tear up the tax refund checks as I do not want the liability and the hassle is not worth the money. Nor is it worth $300 an hour an attorney would charge me to answer this question.

    • Gerri Detweiler

      It’s hard to say whether they are going to try to come after those debts or not. But cashing those checks (if you can at this late date) and not paying the debts is risky. Have you reviewed the California probate procedures? There is some helpful information on the California courts website:

      • AddisonDewitt

        thank you for the reply…I have not cashed the checks, I was planning on returning them to the IRS with a 1310 form to collect the money as her only survivor..But I think I will just leave it alone and not do anything, I imagine they could take any claims against her ” estate” which there is none other then these tax refund monies by her social security # just like they do with other people who owe debtors, like non payment of child support etc. The little bit of money I would be getting from the refund is not worth some future hassle.

        • Gerri Detweiler

          Hopefully you don’t hear from them again.

  • Nita

    Hi, my mother passed away. She has contract to purchase land and left a balance of $6000. I am administrator of her estate. I have two brothers in prison and one incompetent sister. I want to assume the contract and finish paying for the land. Is that possible? If so, what’s the process?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Our condolences Nita. Have you talked with the seller?

  • Anna

    Hi: My father died 10 years ago, and there was no estate because he and my mother owned everything jointly. BUT, the credit cards were in his name with my mother as an authorized user only. She didn’t get a bill in January, and when my sister called, they wanted to speak to my dad, and she told them he was dead. They then told my mother how much to pay for January and February. She then received a bill for March, but then did not get one for April. I called the company to set up online payments, and she said they didn’t have a social security number on file for my dad or my mom, so they would need to have my dad and my mom both on the line to set-up online bill pay. I then told the woman that she hadn’t received a bill for February or April, and she said that was correct, that the account was closed. I asked her when, and she told me February 28, but she couldn’t tell me why, or by who. She did say it was being handled by someone else (I couldn’t understand the woman’s accent – whether it was the collections dept or who).

    What is my mother’s obligation for this bill, if any. I realize that she has been the sole user of the account for the past 10 years, but they don’t have her social security number or anything. She never intended not to pay the cards, but I don’t know how she can pay for the card when they don’t send her statements

    • Gerri Detweiler

      File a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and have her get her credit reports to see how this is reporting. It’s murky because she was an authorized user and not a joint accountholder but still there are requirements under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act.

      How Do I Get My Free Annual Credit Report?

  • susie

    My step mother in law passed away. There is a substantial amount of credit card debt that my father in law was not aware of until now. Some in her name only, some in both names. Their house is paid off and in both of their names. I understand that my father in law is responsible for the debt in both of their names. My question is about the debt that is in her name only. Does the house that my father in law resides in count as an asset in her estate and does it need to be liquidated in order to pay off her debt?
    Thank you

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Does he live in a community property state? If so, then he may be responsible for her debts incurred after they married. I’d recommend he meet with a consumer bankruptcy attorney. He needs to find out what his responsibilities are for these debts and what the creditors may do to collect. So sorry for your loss.

  • Dena roach

    My son was killed in motorcycle wreck on March 21 2015. He had no money, no assets just personal stuff like clothes so tools, etc. How do I settle his estate? Send death certificate with a appolige letter.

    • Gerri Detweiler

      We are so sorry. You have our deepest condolences. Most states have a simple process for small estates. I don’t know what state you are in but if you search online you should be able to find it. If not, please let us know.

  • patty

    I am a nervous wreck…My father was in the hospital and could not go back to his assisted living, and the court took away the guardianship my sister had on my father and then they asked me to be temporary guardian….then my father passed. Now the attorney representing filed a bill and says that I have to pay. I am on disability and did not know that I would be responsible to pay for anything and if I had known I would have giving this guardianship to my brother because he would be able to do it better, now I am so nervous. Will this be billed to the estate of my father??

    • Gerri Detweiler

      I am not sure that’s accurate that you owe the bill just because you have temporary guardianship. Talk with a consumer law attorney. You may be eligible for free help from Legal Aid since you are disabled. (And yes they may be able to try to collect it from the estate but it doesn’t sound like you should be personally liable.)

  • houstonmom

    My son passed away in 2014, leaving no will. I purchased his house for him and put the house in his name. The house is free & clear and there was never a mortgage.
    He left credit card debts of approximately $10,000.00 and medical bills approximately $25K. I hired an attorney, we went to probate court and the judge approved my being the administrator of his estate and his only heir. The attorney published a notice in the local business journal and only one creditor has responded. We live in Texas.
    My questions long does a creditor have to make a claim on the estate? 2. I can prove with checks, at closing, that I paid for the house. Can I have an attorney deed the house to me, as his only heir? 3. Can creditors force me to sell the house to pay debts or do creditors just file judgments? I’m not clear on the process.
    Many thanks.

    • Gerri Detweiler

      I am so sorry to hear of your son’s death. As much as I would like to be of help these are really questions for your attorney. We’re not attorneys and the process varies in different parts of the country.

  • Kelza13

    Hello, wondering if anyone could give me some advice. My mother recently and unexpectedly passed away. I am the executor of the estate. She did not have any money or assets, only a home with a mortgage. She had some hospital bills and credit card bills. We aren’t sure yet what we are going to do with the house. I know if we sell it, the money made from the sale of the house will have to be used to pay these creditors. But what if we don’t sell the house? There is no cash in the estate. Will I then be required to pay these creditors, since I am keeping the only asset she had? Or can they force me to sell the home? Thanks.

    • Gerri Detweiler

      We’re sorry to hear of your loss. Just because the house isn’t a cash asset doesn’t mean the creditor is out of luck. If you want to hold onto the home you may have to borrow against it to pay creditors. But there are so many factors involved it would really make sense for you to consult an attorney to at least find out what your options are.

  • Deboah

    I was awarded house in divorce. I live in Texas. His new wife was asking about the house. My Aunt was renting home she new my aunt was interested on buying it, new wife told her she needed to get a loan and pay it off. My aunt told me she was telling her to do that. I told her she can not request you to do that it was awarded to me in divorce. shortly after that conversation he died. I never heard from executor or her. I checked with Mortgage Company not much help since he was only one on loan. I supplied them with divorce papers, showing them it was mine. I need to know who is responsible for loan and if executor was supposed to notify mortgage.

    • Credit Experts

      Deborah —
      We are not lawyers, and we cannot give you legal advice. This sounds like a complex situation in which you need the services of a lawyer.

  • Crystal Wynecoop

    My Significant other and I have Rental Properties. Which were left by his mother when she passed in 04/13. Prior to her death she had her son added to the Legal ownership of these properties. So they are both owners. There forms of tenant/landlord practice were different. When she was alive she had utilities in her name and he has each tenant pay there own utilities. There are two separate property locations in LA. One Location was simple to transfer into individual accounts. The other location We had multiple tenants and visits by us personally to local office with state issued death certificate and current owner and they wouldn’t change the name on account. They finally shut-off water and we are in jeopardy of loosing tenants. During this time they have record of us trying to handle this situation. They state the son since he is owner on property has to pay. Today when calling they advise me its always been policy that when notified that account owner has deceased within 24 hours the utilities are shut off. Which was never done till its in the thousands of dollars owed. They immediately blame us. They say they had a new accounting software change and many glitches along with short staff which is why they never turned off till now. They wont let my new tenant turn on in his name till bill is paid off. When we visited local branch last they said the state would be held responsible for outstanding bill. this is urgent and in no way can we pay this astronomical bill. What do we do?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      I am not sure if you are saying this is a water bill or another type of utility but you need to find out what the regulatory agency is for this utility. It’s impossible for me to say because it varies widely. If you can’t figure it out try to get one of your elected officials to help. For example, if it’s a county utility then you could contact a county commissioner or if it’s a statewide utility you could try getting your state representative to help. They usually have ombudsman staff that can help.

  • Tracy

    If i inherit an annuity from my mom and she has outstanding debt. do i have to pay her outstanding debt with it?

    • Michael Bovee

      Talk this over with an attorney with a practice that focuses on estate planning in your state.

      If you learn the debt is going to impact the estate, whether the annuity, or some other aspect, get together with all involved and talk about trying to negotiate lower lump sum payoffs where possible.

  • DiDi

    In my aunts will she has left her car to the man next door, but last year she sold the car to her sister-in-law, when she passes does the sister-in-law have to give the car to the man next door.

    • Credit Experts

      Assets included in a will are those that are currently owned — you cannot will something to someone if you no longer own it.

  • Annie

    Hi, my grandfather had put his girlfriend as a co-owner on his mortgage, but she’s dead now, now my question is if my grandfather dies what happens to his house?, like the mortgage isn’t paid off or anything, but does my mother get the house when he dies? Because the lady that does has 3 kids, so will they take the house away?, my mother currently lives in it with my grandfather, or will the bank take it?

    • Credit Experts

      It will depend on what his will says, or if he does not have one, how the state divides his estate.

  • slcinwa

    My sister died and I’m the administrator of her California estate. My question is can a bank who wrote off a debt years ago create a new account in her name and try to collect the previously written off debt from the estate? Thank you in advance!

    • Gerri Detweiler

      My guess is no but I am not an attorney so can’t answer definitively. You may want to check with a consumer law attorney. We often talk with Robert Brennan and Jay Fleischman for stories we write on consumer legal topics and they both practice in California.

      • SLCinWA

        Thank you very much! I so appreciate this site and your help!

        • Gerri Detweiler

          My pleasure. Let us know how this turns out, OK?

          • SLCinWA

            Absolutely! :)

  • Gerri Detweiler

    CW – Our condolences for your loss. We can’t say for certain, but if you live in a community property state then it’s possible the creditor may look to community property for payment. If you don’t, and you didn’t sign anything agreeing to financial liability for these bills, they may be out of luck.

  • dmartin1910

    Can the utility companies charge an early termination fee for cancelling service when the customer died? The children called to cancel the GA Natural GAS service and were told, knowing the situation, there was an early termination fee. Oh, and sorry for your loss, by the way.

    • Gerri Detweiler

      I imagine it would depend on the contract and state law. I’d suggest you start with the Georgia Public Service Commission. (Personally, it sounds like a terrible policy to me, and I extend my condolences for your loss.)

      • dmartin1910

        Well, Ga Natural Gas has done this on multiple occasions that I know of, and it was on WSB TV once in a story. They have no “official policy”. You have to raise hell until they back down, which usually involves calling the GPSC. They finally backed down since I talked to you. Thank You.

        • Gerri Detweiler

          Thank you for the update and additional information.

  • Bina

    My father recently passed away. Although he was older, he walked into a care center with 24 hour nurse care on his own. He passed away 10 days later and they never had him sign anything while he was there. Now they are sending me the bill and I never signed anything saying I was responsible for his bills. He always paid his own bills … Do I have to pay this bill??? He had Health insurance and they just refuse to send the bill in..

    • Gerri Detweiler

      I see no reason why you would be personally responsible for a bill he incurred himself. However, they may try to collect from the estate if there is one. So whomever is the administrator or personal representative of the estate may want to file the insurance claim. If they don’t and too much time elapses, it may be too late to bill insurance. If you are working with an attorney to settle his estate, you should definitely bring this to the attention of the attorney.

  • MJDizzle

    My mother passed away with no assets, she lived in a manufactured home that I own. I was told not to pay her electric bill as it should go through her estate (which won’t have enough money to pay it) and so I went to the electric company, requested the power be switched into my name until I sold the house. They told me that since I lived there (I haven’t in 3 years) that I was sharing that utility and would be responsible for the bill (nearly $300!). I can’t afford to pay it and I’m not an executor of the estate. Am I obligated to pay this bill? Thoughts?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      You are probably not personally responsible but that doesn’t mean they must turn on the service in your name while you try to sell the property. You can talk with your state utility commission to find out if there are consumer protections that may apply here.

      We are very sorry for your loss.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Our condolences for your loss. I presented your question to author Mary Reed, who has coauthored a number of legal books including one on estate planning. Mary is not an attorney so this is not legal advice, but hopefully it will help you as you research how to handle your father’s debts:

    “The purpose of probate is to validate a will, appoint executor or estate administrator, pay debts of the deceased with assets in the estate of the deceased and to transfer remaining assets controlled by the will to the deceased’s beneficiaries.

    NV has simplified probate procedures for small estates and based on what the questioner states in his question, his father’s estate would qualify given that the father appears to have died with virtually nothing. No need for a probate attorney therefore.

    If there are no assets to pay the deceased’s creditors, then they are out of luck, assuming the deceased’s spouse is also deceased. If not, then the community property (of the surviving spouse) could be liable for the credit card debt since NV is a community property state.

    In regards to the funeral expenses: NV law says: The personal representative shall, as soon as sufficient money is available, upon receipt of a sworn statement of the amount due and without any formal action upon creditors’ claims, pay the funeral expenses, the expenses of the last illness, the allowance made to the family of the decedents, money owed to the Department of Health and Human Services as a result of payment of benefits for Medicaid and wage claims to the extent of $600 of each employee of the decedent for work done or personal services rendered within 3 months before the death of the employer, but may retain the necessary expenses of administration.

    So if I am reading the above correctly, funeral expenses get paid before creditor claims regardless of whether or not there will be any funds left over to pay those claims. Also, I believe that if if the questioner has paid the funeral expenses out of his own pocket, it may be possible for him file a claim with the probate court as an unsecured creditor and to get his claim paid by his father’s estate such as it is before any of the other creditors are paid. He would need to check with the probate court about this however.  

    For specifics about what the questioner needs to do, I recommend that he speak to a clerk at the probate court in the county where deceased resided. “

  • manon

    Hello I just bougth a property from my cousin that had just inherate from one of our aunt but what my cousin forgot to tell that she had sing a note that my other aunt y would pay her debt and in exchange my cousin would give her the property that she didn;t have yet, but the aunt that she owe to died 1 year before the aunt a she just died 2 mounths ago so is me bying good or bad will i lose everything or maybe the paper is not good

    • Gerri Detweiler

      I’m sorry but I don’t understand your question or the scenario. At any rate, it sounds like you need to see a real estate attorney to make sure that if you buy the property you can get a clear title.

  • Patrick Flynn

    i have a ? if someone dies left no will an his estate was to expensive to settle whohas rights to there property an stuff ?

    • Credit Experts

      That is determined by laws of the state in which the deceased person lived.

  • tracy

    i have an issue…before my grandmother was put in a nursing home she gave my son her car….she passed away not soon after that. She didn’t have a will but my older sister and brother used to sign all the forms when she was in the hospital and in the nursing home. My son got pulled over and had all the forms eligible about his license but it wasn’t updated in the system so they towed the car. now we have to try and transfer the car into his name (he’s gotten everything straightened out)…. the price for the car being towed is going up everyday and we don’t want to go through probate because that will cost more than the car is worth. there’s insurance on the car. What else can we do?

  • jonny

    brother sold dads car before any of his debts were paid is that legal

    • Gerri Detweiler

      If the car was part of his estate, the creditors may have had priority on the proceeds from that sale.

  • Bob Payne

    I have my father on the title of one of my trucks so that he has transportation for himself. Will his credit card co take my truck for what he owes when he dies?

    Also my mother has no idea he has credit cards again, and my dad refuses to tell her because of major credit card issues in the past nearly cost him his family. I’m sure my mother would file for devorse within hours if he told her he had the cards. So unfortunately I am the only one who knows for sure he has the cards, in which I found out by a matter of circumstances.

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Bob – It’s possible that some of the equity in the truck could be considered his asset, and if he died, may be available to creditors. You’ll need to get legal advice to clarify for certain.

      • Bob Payne

        Since we are both on the title, could I just have him sign off on that, and just keep it like that until said time comes and then take it to Sec of State for an updated title prior to letting the creditors know he has passed?

        • Gerri Detweiler

          Unfortunately I simply don’t know the answer. It sounds like your father could benefit from talking with a consumer bankruptcy attorney anyway. I’m not saying he has to file but the attorney could help him understand what happens to these debts (and how it may impact you and your mother) if he can’t pay them back, or passes away with balances. Are you able to have that conversation with him and perhaps offer to accompany him to meet with the attorney?

  • Maria

    While going through a divoice my husband passed away… He left me in a lot debt… All the credit cards were in my name only .. Now he’s gone an the creditors are coming after me.. There is no money due to the fact he cashed in his IRA s an cleaned out bank account money is untraceable .. How do I handle this situation …we do own a home that has mortgages on it I am literally broke I have SS but it just about covers the electric bills an car payments

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Maria – I am so sorry to hear what you have been through. Contact a consumer bankruptcy attorney right away. You may need to get a fresh start.

  • Mandy H

    My mother just passed away in April and she did not have a will. I have been contacting creditors and sending death certificates to those that ask. Two credit cards (from the same bank) say I have to pay the balances. I am not on the account. Do I have to pay? Also I want to give her car back, but they say I will have to pay the difference from what it sells at during auction. Do I have to pay that?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Mandy – It sounds like you may be getting wrong information and the statements that you are personally liable for the debts (if you are not) may be illegal. I would suggest you either talk with a consumer law attorney or file a written complaint with the CFPB.

      Our condolences for your loss.

  • Lis

    My father is in hospice and expected not to last past a week. The house that we live is in his name and he paid the mortgage but there is no living will.
    How can I get access to the mortgage information and can I take over the house?

    • Credit Experts

      Lis —

      Sorry to hear about your father’s illness.

      Is there no will at all or just no living will? If there is no will at all, the distribution of his assets, when he dies, will be determined by state law.

      If your father is conscious, you can ask him for the information. If he is not, and he has a lawyer, that would be another potential source of information.

      • carolyn

        Transfer of Deed upon Death (TOD) can save you a lot of hassle if you have to go to probate. It’s a simple form, and revocable. Have him sign it before he dies.

  • dab

    My sister has no assets but has credit card debt and car payment. Her will assigns me as executor. Am I responsible for this debt?? Her CD and money market, savings and IRA have listed beneficiaries assigned. How will her outstanding debt be paid?

    • Credit Experts

      First, we are not lawyers and cannot give you legal advice. However, our understanding is that those accounts with beneficiaries generally pass to the designated beneficiary outside probate and out of reach of creditors. Her outstanding debt will be paid with other assets. The executor is not responsible for paying the debts.

  • Emily

    I’m not sure if you can help me here, but I’m going to try. 5 years ago several items were given to my mother by my grandfather, and then my mother passed away. Two years later my grandfather passes away. My aunt tells me my mother stole these items and that I need to give them back .I can’t even find half the items she says were given. He had a will, but she won’t let me see it. Any ideas about what to do?

  • Sharon

    My sibs and I are inheriting as an asset an unpaid 60K personal loan my father made to a neighbor 5 yrs ago. We live in Oregon. The neighbor has never made a payment on the interest or principle. During the probate process the personal rep sent 2 demand of repayment letters to the neighbor and there was no response.. what advice can you offer?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      My best advice is to talk with an attorney. But I have to warn you that even if you sue the neighbor and get a judgment you may still find it difficult to collect if they are unwilling to pay it. Judgments don’t always get paid.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Bill – I wish I knew the answer. It appears from the California courts website that one year is correct, though there are some circumstances where it appears in can be 18 months: Unfortunately I simply don’t know enough about the specifics of the process in each state to advise.

  • Tracey

    I am 34. My father wanted to have his car transferred to me. He was very ill and died unexpectedly before signing over to me. There was no will. My mom has a car and also wants me to have the car. I live in vermont. How can I get this done?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Presumably your mother receives his assets as his spouse. If the car is now hers then I assume she needs to contact the Department of Motor Vehicles to find out the procedure for getting it into her name and then she’ll need to give it to you. I am sorry I can’t be more specific but the procedures for settling the estate vary by state.

  • Izzy

    My mother passed away 3 weeks ago. She had no will, no life insurance, nothing in 401k, no pension left, no mortgage insurance, nothing of value in her home…basically she has zero assets. She owes $71k on a condo that is worth $35k with only her name on the mortgage. I want to stay in the home since I moved in with her in 2012 to help her financially and physically due to her having a stroke. I want to keep the condo but the bank says I have to get an executor form, send copy of death certificate and they will send me an assumption packet. Do I have to qualify or can I just assume the current mortgage terms, etc? Will getting an executor form make me liable for any other debt that my come up? I believe she may have about $2k in credit card debt. Is worth it to assume the condo if it is so upside down. There is no value besides sentimental value. I am in Arizona.

    • Gerri Detweiler

      I am so sorry to hear of your mother’s death. I would urge you to get legal advice before assuming such an upside down loan. With the help of an attorney you may be able to get the lender to agree to a reduction in the balance. Please talk with a consumer law attorney familiar with foreclosures/loan modifications for advice. You should be able to at least get a free initial consultation. If you need help finding one visit the website of the National Association of Consumer Advocates.

  • Veronica

    There is a last will and testament and my fiance is the executor, it states all probate and non probate items shall be left to the five living children. There is no estate except a vehicle and it is in the name of the person deceased we are having trouble getting the title transferred. can you help???We need to get it transferred into my fiance’s name??
    please help.

    • Gerri Detweiler

      It sounds like you are saying your fiance is the executor but that doesn’t make him the beneficiary. If all five living children inherited the vehicle equally then the person who plans to keep the vehicle will either have to buy the others out or it will have to be sold and the proceeds distributed equally. I can’t say specifically what the procedure is in your state but your Department of Motor Vehicles should have information on how to transfer the title after death. Our condolences to you.

  • Anne

    Hello, my father died a year ago. He had a mortgage in his home but one year before his death, he walked away from the home. When my father died, my siblings and I believed that the house was already in forclosure. After his death, I tried contacting the mortgage holder and they would not talk to me since we I was not on the mortgage. My father had an ex wife whose name is on the deed and taxes but not the mortgage. Just this month, my siblings and I all have been served papers as “defendents” as heirs in a forcloure lawsuit. His exwife is the first defendent and then the heirs of the estate of my father are the other defendents. As far as we all know, there is no will, therefore no estate, correct? Can this mortgage company come after myself and my siblings? Also, this lawfirm is requesting my siblings and I to provide them documentation of who are the heirs, their address and if my father had a will or not.

    • Gerri Detweiler

      I am not an attorney so I can’t give you legal advice, and this is a legal matter so it would be good to talk with a real estate attorney. Here’s my take though: in order to dispose of the home the bank has to foreclose. And depending on your state’s laws (sounds like a judicial foreclosure state) they have to go through the courts to do that. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are suing you for the debt–it’s just that as the beneficiaries of your father’s estate (which includes the home even though it is upside down) they have to follow the legal channels to get the home back so they can sell it. A real estate attorney may be able to help you and the other heirs do a deed in lieu of foreclosure or recommend some other approach. It doesn’t sound like this should appear on your credit reports either.

  • Kay

    My sister has terminal cancer and is in the end stages. She is not married and has not had permanent employment for at least a year. She has no assets but does have debt. No one else has been named on any of her debt. She has been on social security since March. Here is the part that really worries me. Her insurance is telling us that she cancelled her insurance as of June. While we think that is a mistake we are concerned about medical bills accumulated after that date. Will all her debt be written off? If not what are our options? Kay

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Family members are not likely to be responsible unless they signed some kind of agreement to be financially responsible. There are a few states where this might happen. If possible, I would encourage you to talk with a consumer protection attorney in her state just to be sure. You can visit the website of the National Association of Consumer Advocates to find one in your area. You should be able to get an initial consultation at a low cost. Another option would be to talk to
      Legal Aid on her behalf.

  • Nancy Nurse

    If the check is not cashed after a certain amt of time, the utility company must send it to the state to be held in case of claims. At least that’s what happens in New York. And then you can get the $$ from them, as long as you can prove you are the heir. You should check your Parents’ states “Unclaimed funds” website every month anyway for a year or so. There may be savings accts, refund checks, unclaimed dividend checks just sitting there already from your Dad. My Dad had around $500 in 2 unclaimed funds accts. in NY from before my Parents moved to Florida in 1978! Check often, because while the State HOLDS the $$ for you, you don’t get any interst, no matter how long they hold it

  • Gerri Detweiler

    We are not attorneys and can’t provide legal advice but there is a federal law that states a lender “may not exercise its option pursuant to a due-on-sale clause upon . . . a transfer to a relative resulting from the death of a borrower,” – the Garn-St. Germain Depository Institutions Act of 1982. Assuming there are no other heirs challenging your right to inherit the home it sounds like you should be OK. But again, you may want to get legal advice.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Unfortunately, no, unless you were named as a beneficiary of her property. If you were not and you are not related then you don’t have any claims to her property. We’re sorry for your loss.

  • Barbara

    My husband passed away in December. He had no will and there is no ‘estate’ to speak of. I basically just cancelled our joint credit card accounts and paid them off or agreed to a settlement. I live in the state of Florida. He also had a new truck, in his name only, that I decided to surrender to Wells Fargo. After Wells Fargo auctioned off the truck, they were paid more than what was owed by us on the truck and sent me a check for 3k made out to my deceased husband. My husband and I made his truck payments together while he was alive. I have already removed his name from our bank account. Is there any way for me to cash this check? Will Wells Fargo rewrite the check out to me, the surviving spouse? I have already thrown away several smaller checks made out to him, but this one is a significant amount that I could really use right now.

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Barbara – We are sorry for your loss. Two things come to mind: the first is to contact Wells Fargo, explain the situation and ask for their assistance. The second is to talk with your bank where you had the joint accounts. If neither works, let us know.

  • JLC

    My sister passed away yesterday. She was on Medicare Disability and had an income of less than $900 a month. She lived in subsidized Senior Housing. Her car is 17 years old and is one I gave her. The title was made to transfer back to me upon her death. The car may be worth a few hundred dollars. She had a few pieces of furniture and household goods that are worth a few hundred dollars at most. Her “estate” would be worth about $1,000. She did not have a will, so there is no executor in writing, but she stated verbally that she wanted me take care of everything and I have paid for her cremation. She lived in Missouri and her three children live in California. She had an Amazon store card and a few credit cards which all have a balance owed which were her sole accounts, no co-signers or anything. I have a checking account with her as an authorized user that she used to put money into to pay her rent or other expenses. I put money in there also to pay for things if she was picking something up for me or to pay for gas if she was running errands for me.

    I have to have her apartment cleaned out within a few days. Would I get in trouble if I sold or gave away any of her possessions?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      My condolences for your loss. Although your sister may have verbally given you permission to take care of her affairs, without a will naming you as personal representative or executor I would not recommend you do that without getting legal advice. It is likely that her children are her heirs and, as such, could possibly take action if you disposed of her property after her death. I’d suggest you get in touch with them and if they want you to take care of things make sure you get everything clearly in writing from all of them. I am not an attorney, however, so please don’t take this as legal advice. The Missouri Bar publishes a guide to the probate process that may be helpful.

  • Ivette

    My uncle passed away last week He lives in California. He had a Sears credit card with a $1,200 balance. His wife was not on his account. He had a daughter as a authorized user so she can buy him things he needed there. Will his spouse who was not on the account be responsible for the balance. She is on social security and has not assets. I wanted to mail a certified copy of his death certificate to Sear with his statement

    • Credit Experts

      California is a community property state, meaning that financial assets (and debts) are considered joint property. You can read more about that here: Who Pays Your Credit Card Debt When You Die?

  • Gerri Detweiler

    I would suggest he file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He should be very specific about what’s happening here, including the name of the creditor who he believes is hounding him. His other option would be to talk with an attorney who handles debt collection cases to see whether this creditor has broken the law. While the federal FDCPA only applies to third-party collection agencies, there are some state laws that apply to creditors (California has one, for example).

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Tom –

    We aren’t attorneys so please don’t take this as legal advice. Generally the executor of the estate is responsible for paying the bills of the estate and and managing it for the benefit of the beneficiaries. The estate is responsible for those expenses, not the beneficiaries.

    Furthermore, if a beneficiary believes the executor is not acting in the best interest of the beneficiaries, and running up unnecessary expenses, then it is wise to talk with a probate attorney as soon as possible.

    • Tom Wichita

      Thank You for your advice. I was under the belief that I was under no obligation, but I wanted some one else to say it as well (acknowledging you are not an attorney).

      I Began the Probate by asking the judge to remove my brother as executor and went back a second time after a period when I could show wrongdoing and the Judge apologized to my brother. So I have backed off for the last year until this bill arrived.

      Again thank you.

      • Gerri Detweiler

        That sounds like a mess for you. I’m sorry to hear it.

  • Trisha Hill

    My uncle passed away this passed Friday. We were the POA of this home, and we are named in his will to have the home yet there was a mortgage, 2nd and a line of credit. According to my mother-in-law (she is the POA of his other financial obligations) she claims all the insurance money and whatever money he had (which was nothing) I can’t afford the house and all of those notes! My mother-in-law won’t allow whatever insurance policies she has to pay on the house. She has listed herself as a beneficiary of these policies. What can I do?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      If your MIL was the named beneficiary on these insurance policies then very likely that money does pass to her outside the estate and it’s hers to do whatever she wants with. I don’t know what you mean by “named herself,” but if you believe she took advantage of your late uncle with her POA then you should definitely consult a probate attorney.

      Can you sell the home, pay off the two mortgages with the sale and have something left over? If so that may be your best course of action. If you cannot pay off the loans with the sale of the house you may want to refuse the inheritance. Either way you may need to talk with an attorney to extricate yourself from this situation.

      Our condolences for your loss.

      • Trisha Hill

        Even though there is still a line of credit owing on the house isn’t that considered to be a bill against his estate? I know she took out one life insurance policy claiming it was to bury him with, however I have located yet another life insurance policy (one she could not find information on) and his wife (also deceased) was the beneficiary. According to his employer he retired from there is a policy and there is a question of what is left of his pension. I am distraught because I did a massive amount of work rehabbing this house (Squatters moved in while he was in a coma for 14 months they had to be legally evicted when he got out of his coma) and was promised a payment of $17k and I received nothing. On top of that I have about $8k worth of tools stolen and I couldn’t file a claim against the homeowners insurance because of the type of insurance she had on the house? Now that he is gone, she has said house and debt is now yours and she is trying to fast tract all monies into her hands?

        • Gerri Detweiler

          Trisha –
          I am so sorry to hear how this is all turning out. It must be awful to feel that all your hard work is going to waste.

          The line of credit is a bill against the estate, but from what you are telling me the house is the only asset in the estate, correct? Any life insurance policies with named beneficiaries go directly to those beneficiaries and are not part of the estate.

          The executor of the estate is responsible for managing the affairs of the estate for the benefit of the beneficiaries, but I am not clear who that is or whether they understand their responsibilities.

          At this point, you’ll need to talk with a probate attorney. I don’t know whether your relative is acting legally, so I recommend you at least consult an attorney to find out. Either way, it sounds like it is going to be messy.

          • Trisha Hill

            Not only is my Mother-in-law the executor she is also the sole beneficiary so she is trying to say that the line of credit is now on me as well as the 1st and 2nd on the house. The house was the only asset. I have located another policy which also includes what is left of his pension. It was left to his deceased wife as the beneficiary. Would this go into his estate to pay towards the house?

          • Gerri Detweiler

            I am sorry but I am just plain confused. I don’t understand why she says you have to pay those debts. Unless you were a cosigner for those loans, they should not be your personal responsibility.

            Whomever inherits the house can take over the payments and keep the home or try to sell the home and pay off those debts.

            But life insurance and retirement accounts left to others do not have to be sued to pay those debts. Again, those accounts left directly to other beneficiaries are not part of the estate and do not have to be used to satisfy debts of the estate.

            The executor is legally obligated to act in the best interest of the beneficiaries. If you are a beneficiary and you believe that your mother-in-law is not acting in the best interest of the beneficiaries, I’d encourage you to consult an attorney.

  • JJ

    What about reposed car with a loan on it yet? Says my brother still owes a certain amount after this car was resold via an auction. We received a bill of the difference owed from selling it and the loan. Does this need to be paid when there isn’t any assets. Only had a life insurance policy and owned nothing but his car.

    • Credit Experts

      If he died without assets, and he was the only person on the loan (no-co-signer), it doesn’t sound as if the bill has to be paid, but you should check with a probate lawyer to be certain.

  • cynthia

    my boyfriend has recently passed away a month ago and the hospitals are calling me to charge me but were not married how can I prove that im not legaly married to him I don’t wanna get charge the only papers that I sighned were saying that i was present at the time he would go to the doctore hospital etc. and the time he passed away what should i do …should i find a local lawyer

    • Credit Experts

      We are sorry to hear about the death of your boyfriend.

      We are not lawyers, and it sounds as if your idea to talk with one is wise.

  • Cheryl

    My friends mother recently passed away. He was her only son and caregivers. Before she passed he bought gifts for himself on her credit cards. He took all the money out of her account. After her death he sold everything in the house, bought a mobile home an SUV and too many things to count. Her home is not paid for so he is stripping it of its air cconditioning and all other appliances and letting it go back to the bank. Will he be liable for anything?

  • Adelina Archibeque

    My brother passed and my niece was in my brothers bank accounts and after he passed she tool all the money and put into accounts and her children. But what happens if ther was a wife and two other siblings. She refuses to give any money to anyone but her self. Isn’t it California law that even though he had her as a beneficery, should that bank hold it from anyone taking it until it’s settled.

    • Gerri Detweiler

      California is a community property state and therefore your late brother’s bank account may well have been community property. I would suggest your sister-in-law talk with an attorney right away.

  • Jill

    My husband passed and had a large electric bill. Now electric company wants me to pay that bill before getting my own service. He had no will or money . What can I do .

    • Gerri Detweiler


      I’m so sorry to hear of your loss. I assume that you and your husband were both living in the same location when he died. Is that correct? If so, you probably do have to pay the bill in order to continue the service in your name. However, there may be some consumer protections that will at least let you get into a reasonable repayment plan inwards to keep your service on. Protections vary by state/jurisdiction. So you’ll need to find out who the regulatory agency is for that electric company and then contact them for advice. You can probably start with your state public utility commission.

  • Psalms139.23.24

    My girlfriend’s grandmother passed away and left my gf and her cousin as the executors. The grandmother was living in a mobile home that hadn’t been paid off, yet. Do the executors get stuck with paying off the home’s unpaid balance if they, or no one else in the family, don’t want to keep the home?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Generally one can refuse or disclaim and inheritance. But if there is equity in the mobile home, perhaps they would prefer to sell it and receive the difference.

      • Psalms139.23.24

        Thank you for your timely response.

        So, by being named as the executors they do not acquire the unpaid balance by default? They can just notify the mortgage company of the said home to come take it and all will be final on the executor’s end?

        • Gerri Detweiler

          I can’t give them legal advice as I am not an attorney but generally a relative who is not a cosigner on the loan (or a spouse in certain states) is not personally responsible for the debt.

          • Psalms139.23.24

            Thank you, again.

          • Gerri Detweiler

            Of course. I hope they are able to resolve it with a minimum of trouble.


    My step-father passed away after being in a nursing facility for about 6 months …. upon his death he had a balance of 15,000.00. he had no real estate or money in his bank account. I was his power of attorney … who pays the bills

    • Gerri Detweiler

      The fact that you have the power of attorney does not mean you are necessarily responsible for these bills. But if you signed something agreeing to be financially responsible then it could. If you didn’t, it’s unlikely that you would be responsible for his bills, but in some states there are filial responsibility bills that can be used to try to collect from family members. If they try to hold you responsible it would be wise to talk with an attorney.

  • RachaelAnn

    My uncle by marriaged “who has been divorced 20+yrs” passed away.. His daughter, my cousin, who lived with him at the time of passing forwarded her mail, and his followed, to my address because she didn’t have a set place to live at the time.. He had a outstanding utility bill of $500+ that just came to my house. Can they come after me for the bill since they now have my address listed as his forwarded address .. My cousin called them to tell them of his passing, they are saying they need a forwarded address for his remaining balance, she told them he died, but they still need to forward the bill. Why is this? How is he to pay his bill if he died and has no money assest or even life insurance

    • Gerri Detweiler

      No you are not responsible simply because your address was used as a forwarding address. Whomever is acting as personal representative or executor for his estate needs to contact all of his creditors. (It sounds like that may be his daughter?) If there is no money to pay the bills, they will go unpaid.

  • Erik

    my mother in law passed away recently. My wife and her had a joint auto loan. is the car attached to the loan considered part of her estate. same question goes for the joint checking account they had.

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Whether the survivor’s interest in the car goes through probate depends on the state and possibly on how it was titled. In some states, if must be held as joint tenants with right of survivorship in order to bypass probate, for example. We recommend you check with your DMV, the court or a probate attorney. Our condolences for your loss.

  • Matt

    My father passed away last year, I was informed I HAVE to file his taxes. he had no estate or life insurance to speak of and less than 600 dollars in his account. most of the debt so far has been written off, but I worry if I file his taxes I am going to be slapped with even more debt from owed taxes.

    I have been told by several people that because I wasn’t financially tied to my father at all, I shouldn’t file. what do you recommend?

  • ginger

    Hello my mom passed 2 weeks ago with no will. I’ve been living with her for 7 years caring for her. I have been to the court house and started the process of probating the estate my brother willingly signed over his part as he knew my mothers last wishes but my sister is fighting it. She says shes coming . With the cops on sat. To get what she wants of moms stuff. Will I have to give it to her or can I legally not let her

    • Gerri Detweiler

      It certainly sounds like a mess. Unfortunately just because you have been caring for your mother doesn’t necessarily mean you are entitled to all of her possessions. But neither does it necessarily mean your sister can come “with the cops” (if they would even get involved) and take whatever she wants. Since you stated she is coming tomorrow, I would urge you to get some legal advice today from a local probate or estate planning attorney. Our condolences for your loss.

  • Rebekah

    My father recently passed away. He still owed money on his vehicle in which we have already surrendered to the bank. The bank contacted my brother a couple of days ago notifying him that he had purchases life insurance on the vehicle.
    My father did not have a will or an estate holder, and the bank told us there really is no need to apply to be an estate holder as he really did not have much
    money in his account and once all his debts are paid off there would be nothing. Is there a way to get the vehicle back without applying for the estate?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Who is the beneficiary of the life insurance policy? Is it the estate or your brother? If your brother received the funds and wants to pay off the vehicle. he can contact the Department of Motor Vehicles to find out how to get it registered in his name. Beyond that, though. probate procedures vary by state so we’ll have to recommend you either talk to a lawyer or the courts for more guidance.

  • Alex E

    My Dad dies about 7 days ago. There’s no will or deed. He died in Mex. He does have a mortgage and my brothers and i would like to keep. At the moment the house has some equity and covers more than what is owed to the bank. What can we do to keep the house? Do we have to report his death to the local Coroner office.?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Our condolences to you and your family. We have an article coming out shortly on the mortgage issue. But in the meantime you want to make sure his death is properly recorded. Since that won’t happen through the usual channels, I found a resource through the US embassy that explains how to make sure it is reported:

  • Missy

    Hello, my mother in law passed away. Her only asset is a mobile home (not the land) in California. Is the mobile home considered an asset? Can the credit card companies come after the mobile home? Her son is planning on living in the house and not selling it, but there is no cash to pay her credit cards.

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Our condolences for your loss. We wish we could help but we aren’t estate planning attorneys and simply don’t have detailed information for how the process works in each state. We’ll have to suggest you talk with a probate or estate planning attorney in your state.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    They may be required to do so. You’ll find more information here on the Medicaid website:

  • Bonnie Wallace Shipley

    I’m a joint bank account holder with my mother her just passed she also had myself & siblings listed as beneficiaries because I’m a joint holder does this mean it’s mine but in my death then beneficiaries take effect?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      I believe that since you were a joint account holder the funds pass to you upon her death, and only in the event of your death the funds would go to beneficiaries. But I am not an attorney so I can’t say that with absolute certainty. Our condolences for your loss.

  • Withmyowneyes

    HelloI live in Texas. My husband passed away two years ago and left everything to our then 2 year old son. In 2009, my mother in law loaned my husband 200k from the sale of her inherited property in Kansas. She never made him sign a contract or repayment agreement as she had cancer and if she were to die that would be his inheritance. She did pass away in Nov of 2010. My father in law says that my husband signed a promissory note to repay the $ to him in January of 2011. Is the estate of my husband responsible to pay this debt to him?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Unfortunately this isn’t something we are in a position to answer. You may want to see if the Texas Consumer Complaint Center can assist. Our condolences to you.

  • Jessica

    My dad passed away a year ago unexpectedly and he had a will from a few years before, that left everything to me and brother and my brother the executor. My Dad left the house to me ,so my brother and I went to an attorney and signed the deed on the house and had it put in my name. There was a loan took out on the house for $19,000 but there was money left to us, so we paid it. Also there was credit card that was a line of credit from the same bank for $6500. We have contacted them several times and still waiting for them to let us know whether they are going to write it off, settle it, or try to take the house! I am a single mom and do not have any money to pay it but can’t loose my home over $6500! Can they take the house from me? Doyou know any resources in Kentucky that could help ? Thanks!

    • Gerri Detweiler

      We’re not attorneys but in most cases unsecured creditors can’t just take someone’s house because they owe a debt. (It’s an unsecured debt after all.)

      They may try to sue to collect, and if they were successful, could possibly put a lien on the house. (That depends on state law.) But it’s also possible you can work out some kind of settlement with them to resolve it so it doesn’t get to that point. (Get it in writing first!)

      It’s also possible that the equity in the home is exempt, or “off limits,” and there isn’t much they can do–or that they won’t pursue it at all. You should be able to get a relatively inexpensive consultation with a consumer law attorney to find out for sure. Visit the website of the National Association of Consumer Advocates to find one in your area.

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