Paying the Debts of a Deceased Relative: What you Should Know

Source: (Minneapolis/St. Paul) Star Tribune, September 19, 2010

  • You usually have no legal obligation to pay the debts of a deceased relative who was not your spouse.  Even a spouse's obligations are limited by state probate law.
  • Generally, someone's estate is responsible for debts.  If there isn't enough in the estate to cover the debts, they typically go unpaid.
  • Some assets of the deceased are exempt from debt collection. Check your state's probate laws for more detail.
  • If a debt collector contacts you about the debt of a deceased relative, give the collector the contact information of the decedent's personal representative, who is responsible for paying outstanding debts.
  • If you are unsure whether you're legally obligated to pay a debt, talk to an attorney knowledgeable in probate law.
  • Verify the debt collector before giving out personal information. Some scam artists pose as debt collectors, checking obituaries and contacting relatives.
  • To stop a debt collector from calling you, send a certified letter saying that you do not wish to be contacted again. 

ACA International members want to work respectfully with consumers to resolve their debt or clear up any misunderstandings. In cases where working directly with a debt collector fails, report problems or complaints to your state's attorney general or your local Better Business Bureau . For more information about consumers' rights in debt collection see the Federal Trade Commission's “Debt Collection FAQs: A Guide for Consumers

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