Who pays debts after death?

Written by duncan jenkins
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Pain and suffering following a relative's death can be overwhelming--being harassed by debt collectors attempting to recoup a deceased relative's debts can be just that: harassment. There are many misconceptions regarding a deceased relative's debts, especially when large debts, such as mortgages, are concerned. The authoritative consumer protection agency, the Federal Trade Commission, though, has clear parameters regarding debt collection and the obligations of relatives.


The importance of wills cannot be stressed enough. All those with debts and/or assets should seek advice from an estate attorney and create a will. Upon a relative's death, the assigned executors will manage the deceased's estate and execute the wishes of the deceased. Generally, it is the executor's responsibility to sell the estate in its entirety or piecemeal to satisfy any unpaid obligations.

Relatives and Obligations

All relatives, excluding spouses, are not necessarily responsible for paying any debts left by a dead relative--even the next of kin. The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) states that all relatives should consult with an attorney, but unpaid debts that can't be covered by the estate generally go unpaid.

Spousal Obligations

The only debts that widows or widowers MUST continue to pay are those on which the surviving spouse is an authorised user. These debts are normally mortgages, other secured loans (such as cars and boats), and home equity lines of credit (HELOC) on the primary residence. A deceased spouse who had individual credit accounts, such as credit cards only in his or her name, does not necessarily pass the obligation on to the surviving spouse. Before paying any debts, it is recommended to speak with an estate attorney.

Debt Collectors

If debt collectors begin calling relatives for payments on the deceased party's accounts, it's important to file a complaint with the FTC. This can be accomplished either by mail or over the Internet. Bear in mind that this option should be exercised only if debt collectors are harassing and unwilling to take appropriate steps to collect the debt. See resources for instructions on filing complaints.


It is recommended to have an attorney handle all financial transactions involving the sale of assets and the satisfaction of a deceased party's debts. This means that debt collectors should be referred to an authorised representative before any surviving relative speaks openly about account details.

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