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The Deceased and Debts: Know Your Rights

It is always a hard time in life when a family member passes away, and the last thing you want to think about is the debt that your family may have left behind. No one wants to deal with these financial crises during a time of grieving, but unfortunately, the debt does not disappear when someone dies. However, there are rules and laws that the debt collector must follow when trying to collect a debt, and that also means as a relative or spouse of someone who has died, you have rights that protect you from these debt collection agencies.

When a person dies and leaves behind any debt, the law dictates that the person’s estate will pay off the debt. The debt does not pass down to the closest relative or spouse of the indebted person. The law protects those relatives and the relatives have no obligation to pay off the deceased person’s debt with their own money. Even if the deceased person’s estate does not pay off the debt, then the debt will remain unpaid, leaving no responsibility to the person’s relatives.

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However, each state has different laws when it comes to debt, and it’s essential to be aware of these laws if you have a close one pass away. First, any co-signed obligation, loan, or property will still need to be paid, so if you have co-signed with someone who has passed away, you may be required to pay the debt. This can include a car loan or a mortgage. Second, you may be responsible for any debt relating to any community property–each state has its laws regarding this. California is one such state. Third, healthcare costs–again depending on the state–may be required to be paid back by the spouse or closest relative.

When a deceased person leaves behind an estate, then the executor is responsible for paying off the debt with the remaining assets of the deceased. This does not mean the executor will have to pay any debt out of his or her pocket, but rather the person must take action to pay off the debt with the remaining assets of the deceased. If there is no executor as determined by the will, usually a court will appoint a relative, but this is different from state to state.

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What to Do If a Debt Collector Contacts You?

A debt collector can lawfully contact a relative, family member, or spouse of the deceased; however, they cannot demand money from that person. They must collect any debt from the deceased’s estate and not directly from the relatives. Debt collectors also cannot harass, abuse, or use deceptive language against a family member to procure a debt.

The debt collection agency can only contact the relative regarding contact information for the executor of the estate, getting information from an attorney, or talk about the details of the estate. Again, that means they cannot demand money from the family member. Most importantly, they cannot talk about the details of the debt itself.

To stop a collection agency from contacting you again, you must send a letter to the collector with proof such as a return receipt by certified mail. The debt does not go away, but the agency can only legally contact you again to verify that they will stop contacting you in the future.

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If you believe a debt collection agency is performing unfair or illegal practices, you can always report them at or contact your state attorney general about the situation. It’s already hard enough to deal with a passing of a close one, but having debt collectors on you for a debt you do not owe is stressful enough. Be sure to know the laws of your state when it comes to a deceased relative’s debt.

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