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Paying the Debts of a Deceased Relative

Paying the Debts of a Deceased Relative

After a relative dies, the last thing grieving family members may expect are calls from debt collectors asking them to pay their deceased loved one’s outstanding debts. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency, a surviving relative usually has no legal obligation to pay the debts of a family member who has died. In fact, the rights of surviving relatives are covered by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), which prohibits debt collectors from using abusive, unfair, or deceptive practices to collect from you.

Under the FDCPA, which is enforced by the FTC, a debt collector is someone who regularly collects debts owed to others. This includes collection agencies, lawyers who collect debts on a regular basis, and companies that buy delinquent debts and then try to collect them.

Here’s what the law has to say about who has responsibility for a dead relative’s debts.

Who is responsible for paying the debts of a relative who has died?

Generally, someone’s estate is responsible for paying their debts. But if there isn’t enough in the estate to cover the debts, they typically go unpaid.

Am I am legally obligated to pay the debts of a deceased relative?

You usually don’t have a legal obligation to pay the debts of a deceased relative who was not your spouse. Even a spouse’s obligation to pay may be limited under state probate law. To determine whether you’re legally obligated to pay, talk to an attorney who is knowledgeable about this area of the law.

What should I do if a debt collector contacts me about a debt of a relative who has died?

Give the debt collector the contact information of the decedent’s personal representative. That’s the person responsible for settling their affairs, including paying any outstanding debts from the estate. If there is a will, the personal representative is known as the executor; if there is no will, the personal representative is known as the administrator.

Don’t give any of your personal information, like your Social Security number, birth date, or financial account numbers to anyone unless you know who you’re dealing with. Some con artists may check obituaries and other legal notices, and then contact relatives of a deceased posing as debt collectors. These scam artists can use your personal information to help them commit identity theft or other types of fraud.

Do I have to speak with a debt collector who contacts me about the debts of a deceased relative?

No. But if you’re a decedent’s personal representative, or otherwise legally obligated to pay the debt, you may want to talk with the debt collector to see if you can resolve the matter.

Can I stop a debt collector from contacting me about the debts of a deceased relative?

Yes. If you decide that you don’t want a debt collector to contact you again, write a letter to the collector saying so. Then, make a copy of your letter, send the original by certified mail, and pay for a “return receipt” so you will be able to document what the collector received and when. Once the collector receives your letter, they may not contact you again, with two exceptions: a collector can contact you to tell you there will be no further contact and to let you know that they or the creditor plan to take a specific action, like filing a lawsuit.

Remember that even though the collector is prohibited from contacting you again, they still may sue the estate of your relative or the legally responsible person to collect the debt.

Can debt collectors tell anyone else about my dead relative’s debt?

Other than to get the personal representative’s location, a debt collector generally is not allowed to disclose your relative’s debt to anyone other than the deceased’s spouse, parent (if your relative is a minor child), or guardian.

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If you are here, you probably have an estate issue you need help with, call Ascent Law for your free estate law consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you.

Michael R. Anderson, JD

Ascent Law LLC
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States

Telephone: (801) 676-5506

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About the Author

People who want a lot of Bull go to a Butcher. People who want results navigating a complex legal field go to a Lawyer that they can trust. That’s where I come in. I am Michael Anderson, an Attorney in the Salt Lake area focusing on the needs of the Average Joe wanting a better life for him and his family. I’m the Lawyer you can trust. I grew up in Utah and love it here. I am a Father to three, a Husband to one, and an Entrepreneur. I understand the feelings of joy each of those roles bring, and I understand the feeling of disappointment, fear, and regret when things go wrong. I attended the University of Utah where I received a B.A. degree in 2010 and a J.D. in 2014. I have focused my practice in Wills, Trusts, Real Estate, and Business Law. I love the thrill of helping clients secure their future, leaving a real legacy to their children. Unfortunately when problems arise with families. I also practice Family Law, with a focus on keeping relationships between the soon to be Ex’s civil for the benefit of their children and allowing both to walk away quickly with their heads held high. Before you worry too much about losing everything that you have worked for, before you permit yourself to be bullied by your soon to be ex, before you shed one more tear in silence, call me. I’m the Lawyer you can trust.