Pay or cancel ongoing expenses

Settle the Estate

Before an Estate is finally settled and its debts can be paid, everyday expenses may accumulate.

Some bills will need to be paid immediately to ensure that the estate retains its value, while others do not need to be paid until the Probate process has started. And some can be cancelled altogether.

Bills that should be paid by the Surviving Family, Heirs, or other Beneficiaries are known as Administrative Expenses. They include:

  • Co-signed loans (the co-signer should start paying them immediately)
  • Bills with a joint account holder (the surviving account holder should start paying them immediately)
  • All bills and debts shared with a surviving spouse, such as a shared phone bill (the spouse is now responsible for those debts)
  • Utility bills (to prevent shut-off and damage to the home)
  • Mortgage and property taxes on the deceased’s home
  • Home insurance
  • Car payments and insurance

Lightbulb_Icon.svgGood to know These expenses should continue to be paid until probate is finished and the estate can provide a reimbursement. Otherwise, it's possible that these bills could result in a higher cost of probate. Probate costs differ by state, but eliminating expenses can help reduce probate costs everywhere.

Exclamation_Icon.svgImportant It is crucial that you keep detailed records of any payments made toward bills or debts of the deceased, whether you make a payment from the deceased’s account or your own funds.

Helpful Tips


In contrast to administrative expenses that should continue to be paid, the following types of expenses should only be paid for by the estate once probate is complete.

  • Income taxes
  • Personal loans
  • Life insurance or retirement account loans
  • Credit card bills
  • Cell phone bills

Typically, the person appointed to manage the estate, known as the Executor, will manage all final payments and reimbursements once probate is finished.

For more information about how the Estate pays debts or provides reimbursements, see the "Pay the estate's bills, debts, and taxes" Chapter of the Guide.


Search the deceased's home, or other places where they keep important documents such as loan documents, bank statements, and credit card statements.

Within this paperwork will be lists of bills the deceased was paying prior to their death, as well as their payment amounts.

Additionally, loan documents will provide information regarding where to send loan payments, and identify potential co-signers who may be responsible for making payments now that the deceased has passed.


The surviving family, heirs, and beneficiaries of the deceased may have to pay some of the deceased’s bills themselves before the legal probate process begins.

However, before paying anything, first determine if any of the deceased’s bills are the responsibility of another person. For example, the following types of bills may need to be paid by another person:

  • Co-signed loans (the co-signer should start paying them immediately)
  • Bills with a joint account holder (the surviving account holder should start paying them immediately)
  • All bills and debts shared with a surviving spouse, such as a shared phone bill (the spouse is now responsible for those debts)

Loans that were co-signed will identify the co-signer. Similarly, any account statement will identify any joint account holders. Contact any individuals identified on these documents, and notify them that they will be responsible for paying the bills going forward.

Exclamation_Icon.svgImportant If you make payments from your own funds, you will have the opportunity to be reimbursed by the estate during probate. Any individuals who pay the deceased’s bills out of pocket should keep detailed records of any bills paid, including the date of payment, amount paid, and to whom the bill was paid.

Guides_Icon.svgRead More To learn more about the probate process, review the “Start the probate process" section of the Guide.


For any payment made on behalf of the deceased, it's incredibly important that you keep extensive records. Otherwise, it may be difficult for the estate to reimburse you at the end of probate.

Things to document for each transaction include, but is not limited to:

  • The name of the person or company to whom money was paid
  • The amount paid
  • The date paid
  • Which account paid the bill (e.g., the deceased’s bank account, a joint account, another person’s account)
  • Identify who paid the bill or authorized payment
  • The receipt or photo of any confirmation

While many bills need to continue being paid, some are no longer necessary and should be canceled so as to save money.

Some examples include:

  • Cell phone/phone bill
  • TV and entertainment subscriptions (e.g., Netflix, Comcast)
  • Health insurance
  • Subscriptions (e.g., newspaper, Amazon Prime)
  • Memberships to clubs, gyms, etc

Lightbulb_Icon.svgGood to Know Some members of the surviving family may want to keep using some of the deceased's accounts, or transfer them rather than cancelling. Speak with them before cancelling anything.

Once you determine what should be cancelled, contact those companies and notify them of the deceased’s death.

They will provide instructions for canceling or paying off the deceased's account, and may even request a copy of the deceased’s Death Certificate.


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.


A Community Property State is one that enforces Community Property Laws, which states that any property bought or money earned by either spouse in a marriage is equally owned by both partners.

If the deceased lived in a community property state, any bills or debts the deceased acquired during marriage will automatically become the responsibility of the surviving spouse.

The surviving spouse must pay these bills and debts, as agreed with the lender, immediately after the death of their spouse, even before an estate is opened with the appropriate Probate court.

The following states are community property states:

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Idaho
  • Louisiana
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • Texas
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin

Lightbulb_Icon.svgGood to Know Other bills or debts of the deceased acquired outside of the marriage will not be be the responsibility of the deceased’s estate. They will be paid during the probate process.

Guides_Icon.svgRead More To learn more about starting the probate process, see the "Start the probate process" Task in the Guide.

Personal Considerations


Did the deceased have debts?


Depending on the type of debt, it may need to be paid immediately to prevent fraud or collections lawsuits.

Most payments will need to continue being made according to the terms of the contract rather than be paid in full immediately.

For instance, if there is a balance of $75,000 remaining on the deceased’s mortgage, it does not need to be paid off immediately. Rather, the regular mortgage payment needs to continue being paid.

However, in rare cases, some contracts may need to be paid in full as a result of the deceased’s passing.

You will need to locate and review the terms of any loans and debt the deceased owed to determine what needs to be paid and when.


If you have reviewed the deceased's accounts and are still unable to discover any debts, move on to the next step in the estate administration process,.


If the deceased had debts:

Depending on the type of debt, it may need to be paid immediately to prevent fraud or collections lawsuits.

Most payments will need to continue being made according to the terms of the contract rather than be paid in full immediately.

For instance, if there is a balance of $75,000 remaining on the deceased’s mortgage, it does not need to be paid off immediately. Rather, the regular mortgage payment needs to continue being paid.

However, in rare cases, some contracts may need to be paid in full as a result of the deceased’s passing.

You will need to locate and review the terms of any loans and debt the deceased owed to determine what needs to be paid and when.

If the deceased did not have debt:

If you have reviewed the deceased's accounts and are still unable to discover any debts, move on to the next step in the estate administration process,.


Did the deceased have loans with co-signers?


The co-signers are now solely responsible for the loans they co-signed.

Co-signers are individuals who pledge, in writing, to pay back a loan or bill if the other person named on the loan is unable.

If you co-signed loans with the deceased, you are now legally responsible for the payment of those loans.

But if you need to look for potential co-signers, their names can be found on the loan contract and may also appear on billing documents.

Co-signers must make sure that regularly scheduled payments continue toward the loan(s) after the death. They are typically:

  • The spouse of the deceased
  • The parent(s) of the deceased
  • The grandparent(s) of the deceased
  • A child of the deceased
  • A business partner of the deceased

Any co-signer responsible for paying the loan should determine the remaining balance, payment amounts, and due dates, and set a reminder to make the loan payment by its scheduled due date.


If the deceased had loans without co-signers, their estate will be responsible for paying the unpaid balance of those loans.

Locate any loan documents that were solely in the deceased’s name and contact the lenders to notify them that the individual named on the loan has died.

This will help prevent accounts being sent into collections or utilities getting shut off.


If the deceased had co-signed loans:

The co-signers are now solely responsible for the loans they co-signed.

Co-signers are individuals who pledge, in writing, to pay back a loan or bill if the other person named on the loan is unable.

If you co-signed loans with the deceased, you are now legally responsible for the payment of those loans.

But if you need to look for potential co-signers, their names can be found on the loan contract and may also appear on billing documents.

Co-signers must make sure that regularly scheduled payments continue toward the loan(s) after the death. They are typically:

  • The spouse of the deceased
  • The parent(s) of the deceased
  • The grandparent(s) of the deceased
  • A child of the deceased
  • A business partner of the deceased

Any co-signer responsible for paying the loan should determine the remaining balance, payment amounts, and due dates, and set a reminder to make the loan payment by its scheduled due date.

If the deceased did not have any co-signed loan:

If the deceased had loans without co-signers, their estate will be responsible for paying the unpaid balance of those loans.

Locate any loan documents that were solely in the deceased’s name and contact the lenders to notify them that the individual named on the loan has died.

This will help prevent accounts being sent into collections or utilities getting shut off.


Did the deceased have an outstanding mortgage?


You must contact the mortgage provider and provide notice of the death.

Surviving spouses in Community Property States, co-signers on the mortgage, or joint account-holders on the mortgage will need to continue paying the monthly fees.


Still determine whether the deceased owes any property or real estate taxes.

Taxes will need to be paid if due, even before opening an estate with the appropriate probate court if:

  • You are the surviving spouse of the deceased in a community property state
  • Your name is included with the deceased’s name on the bill in question

If the deceased had an outstanding mortgage:

You must contact the mortgage provider and provide notice of the death.

Surviving spouses in Community Property States, co-signers on the mortgage, or joint account-holders on the mortgage will need to continue paying the monthly fees.

If the deceased did not have an outstanding mortgage:

Still determine whether the deceased owes any property or real estate taxes.

Taxes will need to be paid if due, even before opening an estate with the appropriate probate court if:

  • You are the surviving spouse of the deceased in a community property state
  • Your name is included with the deceased’s name on the bill in question

Providers to Contact


Probate Attorneys Near You

Probate Attorneys help settle a deceased person’s estate. They can help you comply with state and federal probate laws, and assist with paperwork, the probate process, and the financial aspects of probate.

No results in your area.

Bankruptcy Attorneys Near You

Bankruptcy Attorneys represent debtors who are struggling with bills. They can help you negotiate with creditors and file for bankruptcy in court.

No results in your area.


Settle the Estate