The Law on Debts of Dead Relatives

Written by noel shankel
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The Law on Debts of Dead Relatives
Family members may inherit some of the debt left behind by those who have died. (debt defined image by Christopher Walker from

When someone who has stockpiled debt of any kind dies, the remaining family members are not necessarily required to pay it off. Under certain circumstances, the spouse of the deceased might inherit the debt, but this not always the case. Credit card companies and other debt collecting agencies have the right to collect outstanding debt from the estate of the deceased. Federal laws protect all surviving family members from harassing debt collectors.


In the event that a family member dies in debt, it is common for that debt to be paid off by the deceased’s estate through a probate process. The probate process involves not only settling any debt, but also transferring any assets to beneficiaries named in the will as well. However, before any beneficiary can collect from the estate, all debt must be paid first. Probate courts handle the probate process, which includes notifying creditors that the borrower has died and taking inventory of his property.

Credit Cards

If someone opens up a credit card account with her spouse, a business partner or anyone else and then dies, whoever shared that account is responsible for paying off the remaining debt. However, if a borrower opens up a credit card account by himself, no other family member is responsible for covering the debt. The credit card companies may recover the debt owed to them through the deceased's estate. During this process, the credit card company cannot add any additional fees or penalties. If the estate does not have enough funds to cover the whole debt, the remainder goes unpaid.


Spouses of the deceased are not automatically required to pay off, or inherit, any remaining debt unless they have joint custody of the debt. Such debt may include house or mortgage payments, utility payments or health care insurance. However, some states view property and assets as jointly owned if a couple is married, and therefore the spouse would inherit any debt left behind. These states include California, Nevada, Idaho, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin and Louisiana.

The Law on Debts of Dead Relatives
Spouses may be required to pay some of the debt left behind. (vous rings image by jimcox40 from

Children and Other Family Members

Children who have lost both of their parents are not responsible for paying any debt left behind unless they have cosigned on a loan or have a joint bank account. Children, or any other family member, are not required by law to pay any debt left behind by any other family member. If a bill collector of any kind makes repeated attempts to collect debt from a family member of the deceased, and the family member has no obligation to pay off that debt, the family member may contact the state attorney general's office and file an official complaint.

Debt Collectors

If a family member dies and owes debt in his name, surviving family members are protected from harassment by debt collectors under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Under the act, which is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission, debt collectors are not allowed to call before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. They are also prohibited from contacting people at work. Debt collectors may not use threatening language, including obscene language, toward you or anyone else involved in the situation.

The Law on Debts of Dead Relatives
Deby collectors may not call during certain hours. (phone image by Eisenhans from

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