Understanding And Resolving Probate Debt Issues

William Sweeney

In most cases, people die leaving unpaid bills. Although heirs or beneficiaries may be enticed to only consider valuable property and other assets, the fact remains that the law requires a fair handling of a deceased person's affairs — this includes resolving unfinished financial business and unpaid debts.

Will I Inherit The Decedent's Debt?

When resolving debts during probate, personal representatives must understand that the estate must distribute any available funds to creditors before the balance of the estate can be forwarded to beneficiaries.

Usually, no one inherits someone else's debts. If there is no contract between an outside party (a family member who signed on an auto loan, for example) and the creditor, then the outside party cannot be forced to pay any outstanding amount. However, this is not without exceptions:

  • Cosigned debts: If you cosigned a contract with the decedent, you will be held responsible for the remaining balance. In the simplest terms, if you cosigned and the other party passed or is otherwise unable to pay, you are responsible for the debt.
  • Community property exception: If you reside in a community property state, you will be responsible for debts incurred by your spouse. Even if your name is absent from the contract, as long as the debt was incurred during the marriage, you may be held liable for the outstanding amount.

As The Personal Representative, It Is Your Responsibility To Notify Potential Creditors. As Your Attorney, I Can Help.

There are numerous responsibilities that come with being named a personal representative (executor or administrator). When it comes to notifying creditors, it's important to consider all debts and ensure that all concerned parties are notified.

In many cases, the deceased may have debts with any of the following:

  • Rest home or hospital
  • Any physicians or health care providers
  • Ambulance companies that may have been used
  • Landlord (if the decedent rented)
  • Mortgage holder of any property that the decedent owned
  • Utility bills such as electricity, water, gas, telephone, etc.
  • Any credit card bills
  • Creditors of the decedent's business (in cases where the business is not incorporated or if there were any personal guaranties)
  • Any employees (gardener, cook or maid)
  • Note payees
  • A securities broker who may have an obligation due
  • Anyone who sends a bill intended for the decedent

Let An Experienced Lawyer Guide You Through The Probate Process

Don't enter into probate blindly. Contact me, William Sweeney, by calling me toll free at 800-575-9610 or locally at 760-989-4820. If you are more comfortable sending an email, you can reach me by submitting an online contact form.

I represent clients in San Bernardino County, Riverside County and others throughout the state. If you live outside California but are addressing a probate issue within the state, I'm prepared to help you.