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When a parent dies, do I have to pay off their debts?

There are many people who inherit assets after a loved one dies. They may also have questions, though, about what happens to debts. Will debts also pass onto them, and will they need to repay what was owed?

The kind of debt that your loved one had will matter when answering this question. Your relationship to your family member will matter as well.

Can you be held liable for a parent’s debt?

Although creditors may call you and say that you owe them for your mom’s or dad’s debts, the answer is that you typically cannot be held responsible for your parent’s debts. It is common for creditors to tell you that you’re responsible for what was owed, but that’s generally untrue and could be them attempting to mislead you to collect the debt.

There are exceptions, one of which is if you cosigned a loan or credit application with your family member. In that case, you likely will be responsible for the outstanding amount of debt, even if your deceased loved one had been paying on it on their own.

The estate of the deceased can be liable for debts

Your family member’s estate can be held responsible for debts that haven’t yet been paid for a limited period of time. Most assets typically can be used to pay down those debts, but this has to be carefully done and the assistance of your lawyer is important, because there are potential legal pitfalls to be avoided. One important consideration is whether there are “payable upon death” accounts. Those, in most cases, will pass outside probate to the heirs of the decedent and won’t be counted as part of the probate estate.

What should you do if a parent’s estate has debt obligations and you are the executor?

If your parents owed debts at the time of their deaths and you’re the executor, you should talk to your lawyer about what you need to do. Having the assurance that you’re not making mistakes is helpful, because making errors could end up causing trouble.

You’ll need to make a list of all the assets and debts held by the estate. Then, you can work through them with the lawyer to determine who needs to be paid.