Who Owes The Debt When A Family Member Dies?

07 Aug Who Owes The Debt When A Family Member Dies?

It happens all too often, and it is always sad. A family member dies with outstanding debts, and the collectors call the survivors.

You are generally not responsible simply because you were a relative, although there may be a special law in your state for some limited purpose. In Massachusetts, a spouse is obligated for “necessaries” such as medical care, food, and rent. That obligation is to the unique creditor only, and not to a credit card issuer just because, say, food was charged to a card by the decedent. You should check into your particular state’s law.

If the decedent left an estate, then the estate representative will pay according to available assets and state law.

The Federal Trade Commission recommends that you send a letter to any harassing collector a letter saying that you don’t want to talk with it, by certified mail with a return receipt. You should keep the receipt along with your own copy of that letter. More information on this subject may be found in the posts of my colleagues Jonathan Ginsburg and Brett Weiss, who wrote about a newspaper reporter’s unpleasant experience and a debt consolidator’s false statement which incorrectly stated that a spouse becomes responsible for all of a decedent’s debts. That just isn’t true.

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L. Jed Berliner practices exclusively in consumer bankruptcy, foreclosure defense, and related consumer protection litigation such as credit card defenses and suing debt collectors. He established his Springfield, MA practice in 1988. Attorney Berliner is a regular and active contributor to the Bankruptcy Law Network, the Bankruptcy Roundtable, and the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, three specialized consumer bankruptcy forums on the Internet, and is an informal mentor to regional practitioners. He is recognized by his peers as an expert in consumer bankruptcy issues. He thoroughly enjoys being rated "excellent" in his client surveys.

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