Only use estate funds to settle outstanding bills
Before closing any accounts, settle any debts out of estate funds only. Do not use your personal funds to pay any debts left by the deceased.
You are protected by the Fair Debt Collect Practices Act, a federal law that limits who a collector can contact regarding the debts of a deceased person.
If you are the spouse of the deceased living in one of nine community property states in the United States, you will be responsible for any outstanding loans that were in the deceased’s name.
Any money owed to the estate and other credits or assets must also go to the estate unless the account has a designated beneficiary.
List of Community Property states
- New Mexico
Who is responsible for the deceased’s outstanding debts?
While debt collectors may attempt to contact family members of the deceased to collect payment, they are usually not liable for the deceased’s debts.
In general, the deceased’s estate is responsible for any debts left solely in the name of the deceased. If the deceased had loans with a co-signer who survived the deceased, the co-signer will be solely responsible for paying the remaining balance of those loans according to the terms of the loan.
The deceased’s family members may be personally responsible for paying debts of the deceased if:
- The loan was signed with a co-signer or joint account-holder other than the deceased (the surviving account holder is now responsible for the debt)
- The deceased lived in a community property state and has a surviving spouse
If the estate is responsible for any outstanding loans, the executor of the estate will be responsible for paying those debts out of any assets left in the estate (e.g., bank account of the deceased, real property, life insurance, etc.).
How to handle abusive debt collectors
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) protects individuals from abusive or deceptive bill collection practices.
The Act limits who a collector can contact regarding the debts of a deceased person. According to the FDCPA, collectors can only contact and discuss the deceased’s outstanding debts with:
- The spouse of the deceased,
- The parents of the deceased if the deceased was a minor child,
- The legal guardian of the deceased, and/or
- The executor of the deceased’s estate.
If you are contacted by a debt collector and you are not the spouse, parent, legal guardian, or executor of the deceased’s estate you should notify the collector, in writing, that their activity violates the FDCPA.
Providers to Contact
Probate Attorneys Near You
Probate attorneys can advise you of the rules and procedures for paying the deceased’s bills. They help settle a deceased person’s estate.