Planning For Your Family Future

Protect Your Legacy Today!
Schedule

Creditors And Your Estate Plan

January 8, 2023 •  Legacy Law LLC
What Happens To Your Debt When You Die? Maybe you’ve wondered about your own debt or perhaps your parent’s debt—what happens to that debt when you (or they) die? Well, it depends, and that’s part of the reason you want to ensure your estate plan is well-prepared. How you handle your debt can greatly impact […]

What Happens To Your Debt When You Die?

Maybe you’ve wondered about your own debt or perhaps your parent’s debt—what happens to that debt when you (or they) die? Well, it depends, and that’s part of the reason you want to ensure your estate plan is well-prepared. How you handle your debt can greatly impact the people you love.

In some cases, you could inadvertently leave a reality in which your surviving heirs—your kids, parents, or others—are responsible for your debt. Alternatively, if you structure your affairs properly, your debt could die right along with you.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, an individual’s debt does not disappear once that person dies. Rather, the debt must either be paid out of the deceased’s estate or by a co-creditor. And that could be bad news for you or the people you love.

What exactly happens to this debt can vary. One of the purposes of the court process known as probate is to provide a time period for creditors to make a claim against the deceased’s estate, in which case debts would be paid before beneficiaries receive their inheritance. But if there is nothing in the probate estate and all assets are held outside of the probate estate, then what?

Well, that’s where we come in, and why it’s so important to get your affairs in order, even if you have a lot more debt than assets. Your “estate” isn’t just what you own, it includes what you owe, too. And with good planning, we can help you align it all in exactly the way you want.

Debt After Death

When an individual dies, someone will handle his or her affairs, and this person is known as an executor. The executor can either be someone of the individual’s choice if he or she planned in advance, or someone appointed by the court in the absence of planning. The executor opens the probate process, during which the court recognizes any will that’s in place and formally appoints the executor to administer the deceased’s estate and distribute any outstanding assets to their loved ones.

During this process, the estate’s assets are used to pay any outstanding debt. This usually includes all of an individual’s assets, although it does not include assets with beneficiary designations, such as 401(k) plans and insurance policies.  The estate does not own these assets, which pass directly to the named beneficiaries. Given these factors, if an individual’s assets are subject to probate and the person has outstanding debt, their beneficiaries will receive a smaller share of anything left to them in the estate plan.

How Unsecured Debts Are Handled After Death

Typically, unsecured debts, such as credit card debts, are the last form of debt the estate repays. In most cases, the estate first repays any outstanding secured debts, including car and mortgage loans. Following this, the estate repays the legal and administrative fees associated with executing the deceased’s will. From there, the estate repays any outstanding unsecured debt, including credit card balances. Usually, if the estate lacks the assets to repay these debts, creditors have no choice but to accept the loss. 

However, in some states, probate laws may dictate how the deceased’s creditors can clear these debts in other ways, such as by forcing the sale of the deceased’s property. It’s worth noting that there is a time limit for creditors to claim against an estate after the deceased dies, and this time frame varies between states.

Avoiding Probate

There are several things you can do to avoid probate. Perhaps the most common involves establishing a revocable living trust. Since the trust, not the estate, owns the assets, assets held by a properly funded and maintained trust do not have to go through the probate process.

Despite this, creating a living trust does not guarantee an individual’s assets will receive protection from creditors if that person has debt. What it does mean is that his or her heirs may have more flexibility compared to probate. In other words, by creating a living trust, your trustee may be able to negotiate with creditors more easily to reduce any outstanding debt. In theory, creditors may still sue to repay the debt in full. However, since this could involve significant costs, creditors may prefer to settle instead. 

When Do Surviving Family Members Pay The Deceased’s Debts?

Most of the time, it’s unnecessary for surviving family members to pay the deceased’s debt with their own money. Instead, as noted above, payment of the debts is either paid out of the deceased’s estate or if there is no estate, the debts are extinguished. However, there are some exceptions to this, including the following:

  • Co-signing loans or credit cards: If someone cosigns a loan or credit card with the deceased, that individual is responsible for clearing any outstanding debt associated with that account.
  • Having jointly owned property: If an individual has jointly owned property or bank accounts with the deceased, that person is responsible for clearing any outstanding balances associated with these assets.
  • Community property: In some states, including California, Arizona, Nevada, Louisiana, Idaho, Texas, Washington, New Mexico, and Wisconsin, the surviving spouse is required to clear any outstanding debt associated with community property. Community property is any property jointly owned by a married couple.
  • State laws: Some states require surviving family members, or the estate more generally, to clear any debts associated with the deceased’s healthcare costs. Additionally, if the estate’s executor failed to follow a state’s probate laws, it might be necessary for him or her to pay fines for doing so.

What To Do When Someone Dies With Debt

When someone dies with outstanding debt, it’s essential to take swift action to handle their affairs and negotiate their debts. Below are some steps to follow when faced with this scenario:

01 - Understand Your Rights

Since probate laws vary between states, it’s a good idea to thoroughly research the probate process in our state, or hire a lawyer to handle the estate for or with you. Many states require creditors to make claims within a specific period, while also requiring surviving family members to publicly declare the deceased’s death before creditors can collect any outstanding debt. It’s also against the law for creditors to use offensive or unfair tactics to collect outstanding credit debt from surviving family members. It’s generally a good idea to ask creditors for proof of any outstanding debt before paying.

02 - Collect Documents

Collecting documents can be fairly straightforward, particularly if the deceased left all their vital financial papers in a single location. If the surviving family members cannot locate these documents, they can request the deceased’s credit report, which lists any accounts in the deceased’s name. As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we can do this for you, as part of our post-death support services.

03 - Cease Additional Spending

This is essential to prevent any debts in the deceased’s name from increasing further, even if there is another person authorized to make payments. Ceasing additional spending. including canceling any recurring subscriptions, also helps prevent unnecessary complications when negotiating with creditors.

04 - Inform Creditors

Proactively contact the deceased’s creditors to look into options for negotiating the debt, and notify credit bureaus of the death. To complete this process, it’s useful to have several copies of the death certificate to share with insurance companies and creditors. Afterward, ask to close all accounts in the deceased’s name, and request the credit bureaus freeze the deceased’s credit, preventing others from unlawfully getting credit in his or her name.

05 - Close The Estate

Once all debt has been paid off, forgiven, or extinguished, the executor can officially close the estate. The process for doing this varies based on how assets and debts were held, so do not go into this part alone. Contact us to find out how we can support you. 

We Can Help Ensure Your Family Doesn’t Get Stuck With Your Debt

Effective estate planning involves taking care of your affairs, and this includes ensuring your debts will be handled in such a way that your family isn’t left with a big mess or inadvertently forced into court. Consider scheduling a Family Wealth Planning Session with us at Legacy Law to determine how we can help protect your assets and prevent creditors from reducing the gifts you want to leave your loved ones after death. Contact us today to learn more. This article is a service of Bethany Gilson Casey, Personal Family Lawyer. We do not just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That's why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Speak With an Attorney

Schedule

Schedule Now

Client Success Stories

Bethany was amazing very helpful and kind. Made me feel very comfortable in a rough situation. Made sure I got what I wanted set up and took care of me and my family. Awesome job. I recommend her 100%.
Cari Covolo
December 22, 2021.
Bethany was professional, very knowledgeable, personable, and easy to work with. She made the daunting task of setting up a will easy and seamless.
Amanda Larson
October 21, 2021.
Bethany was great! She explained the details of probate and how it works in detail. Our purpose was to protect our children in the untimely event of both of us passing at the same time. The estate planning put our minds at ease. She encourages us to follow up with her periodically and make sure everything is still in order. This impressed us, she cares.
Dale Arey
October 13, 2021.
Bethany was great to work with! We highly recommend Legacy Law. Bethany was always well prepared and made things feel simple and easy to understand. She made a process that can feel overwhelming feel simple and manageable to do. She is very organized, professional and caring. She did an excellent job in preparing all the estate documents and helping us create a living trust!
Carey Larson
October 8, 2021.
Bethany was really helpful in getting our trust set in place; she answered all our questions thoroughly and we have peace of mind that our estate and affairs are in order. Highly recommend!
Paul Alvey
September 6, 2021.
I was pretty nervous/unsure about needing a will/ trust and decided to explore my options. I found an introductory video on-line from Legacy Law. From there I set up a meeting with Bethany and went in with a boatload of questions. My questions were answered patiently and with great expertise. I never felt pressured and came out feeling reassured and comfortable with my choices/decisions. This was all done professionally and in a very timely manner. To this day, if I have a question all I have to do is give Bethany or Brynn a call. It is without hesitation that I recommend Legacy Law and their services.
Patsy Christensen
August 31, 2021.
Thank you LegacyLaw Estate planning was a breeze with them .
Deborah Doak
August 21, 2021.
Bethany was great! Very professional and personal. She was always able and willing to answer our questions and come up with the best solution for our needs. I highly recommend her for estate planning and to navigate all the legal intricacies related to that.
Jeff Wilson
August 20, 2021.
Bethany was very professional, reasonably priced and very thorough when working with us on our trust. We highly recommend her for very individualized planning and attention to detail.
Robin Schamber
August 9, 2021.
Bethany was very professional and easy to work with. She answered all my questions and helped me put together a good living trust that I feel comfortable with. I would highly recommend her to anyone who is thinking about estate planning.
Steve Boyd
August 3, 2021.
Legacy Law LLC

2620 Commercial Way, Ste. 160
Rock Springs WY 82901

Get Directions
Integrity Marketing Solutions - Estate Planning Marketing
Powered by
crosschevron-down