Does the family inure the debt the father made without their knowledge once he dies? 44 Answers as of August 18, 2012

Hello, my father has terminal cancer and has incurred debt without my mother’s knowledge and/or consent. Once he passes is my mother, or his children, responsible for his debt? As far as we know he may have $18,000 in death benefits but no other life insurance.

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Horn & Johnsen SC
Horn & Johnsen SC | Dera L. Johnsen-Tracy
If your parents reside in a community property state, or in a marital property state, then your mother would likely be held responsible for any debts your father incurred during marriage. Note that there are rare exceptions to this rule, and your mother may wish to consult with an attorney regarding her options. On the other hand, your father's children would likely not be held responsible for his debts, unless they entered into some type of personal guarantee.
Answer Applies to: Wisconsin
Replied: 8/18/2012
Evan Guthrie Law Firm
Evan Guthrie Law Firm | Evan Guthrie
The family of the deceased is not responsible for the debts of the deceased. All debts of the deceased are in the estate.
Answer Applies to: South Carolina
Replied: 8/13/2012
Halloran & Sage | Vincent A. Liberti
This depends entirely upon the laws of the state they live in. Many states impose liability for medical debt upon the spouse. Some states impose the liability upon children as well. So it depends upon their state's laws.
Answer Applies to: Connecticut
Replied: 8/13/2012
Geoff Germane, Attorney at Law | Geoff Germane
If the debt was in his name alone and was not secured by collateral, the debt becomes a debt of his estate, and not of his heirs. Any property owned by his estate would be potentially subject to satisfying the debt.
Answer Applies to: Utah
Replied: 8/8/2012
Law Office of Robert J. Slotkin | Robert J. Slotkin
Heirs are not responsible for paying a decedent's debts. Hopefully the life insurance is payable to one of you, not to his estate. In the latter case, the $ coming into his estate would be available to pay creditors before it got to you guys.
Answer Applies to: Florida
Replied: 8/7/2012
    Harkess Law Offices | Nancy Harkess
    The children of the deceased are not responsible for his debt. However, in a community property state such as Nevada, a spouse is responsible for the community debt. Your mother should see an attorney. She may be able to negotiate with the creditors or file bankruptcy.
    Answer Applies to: Nevada
    Replied: 8/7/2012
    Austin Hirschhorn, P.C.
    Austin Hirschhorn, P.C. | Austin Hirschhorn
    On his death, the debt of your father would pass to his estate. If his life insurance is payable to a specific beneficiary or beneficiaries it would pass directly to the beneficiary and would not be subject to the claims of creditors.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 8/7/2012
    Law Office of Charles M. Vacca Jr. | Charles Martin Vacca Jr.
    Heirs only inherit assets. Not debts! However, the probated estate is required to pay off certain debts, such as funeral costs, taxes, attorney fees.
    Answer Applies to: Rhode Island
    Replied: 8/6/2012
    Law Office of Matt Potempa, PLLC
    Law Office of Matt Potempa, PLLC | Matt Potempa
    A spouse may be liable for some debt, depending on the terms of the loan or promissory note. The children will not be liable for any debt. You should consult with an experienced attorney to evaluate the terms of the loan documents.
    Answer Applies to: Tennessee
    Replied: 8/3/2012
    Hunter Law Offices, PLLC
    Hunter Law Offices, PLLC | S. Christopher Hunter
    The general rule is that unless someone else signed for the debt they are not responsible for it. Therefore, if neither his wife or his children agreed to pay the debt or cosigned for it they are not obligated to repay it. However, the people he owed money to will be allowed to go after his probate estate. Depending upon how the insurance benefits were set up they may be able to go after it if your father did not name a beneficiary on those benefits.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 8/3/2012
    Law Office of William L Spern | William Spern
    My sympathy for your loss. You may have a moral obligation but no legal obligation to pay unsecured debts of your late father. If your mother or any other family member never agreed to the debt, they have no obligation to pay the debt. This all assumes that there is no estate opened to transfer assets. If an estate is opened, the estate must give notice of death and a time period for all debtors to make a claim against the estate.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 8/1/2012
    DOUGLAS A. TULL, P.C.
    DOUGLAS A. TULL, P.C. | Douglas A. Tull
    Generally no, the family is not responsible, but assets remaining in father's estate might be, depending on value. The question discusses death benefit as if that is the only asset. If that is the case, the death benefit is not an asset of his estate and may not be assessable for payment of the father's debts. Also, if mother/wife or children signed any documents agreeing to be responsible for father's debts, then it would be those agreements, not the law, that would make them responsible.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 8/1/2012
    Law Offices of Charles R. Perry
    Law Offices of Charles R. Perry | Charles R. Perry
    The community property of your mother and father can be reached for the debt that your father incurred. When someone passes away, moreover, their estate is liable for their debts, and any property transferred without those debts being paid can still be reached by creditors to pay the debt, unless those debts are extinguished in a probate proceeding. It seems clear that any creditor of your father will be able to make a claim against the death benefits once they are received, and will be able to "follow" those benefits to whomever receives them. In any event, a person's estate does not pass automatically free and clear of any debts that person may have incurred.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 8/1/2012
    Alvin Lundgren | Alvin Lundgren
    None of the family members is responsible for you father's personal debt. However, if he had assets at his death, those may be used to pay his debts. When the assets are used or the debts paid, the balance goes to the heirs.
    Answer Applies to: Utah
    Replied: 8/1/2012
    O'Keefe Legal Services, L.L.C.
    O'Keefe Legal Services, L.L.C. | Sean P. O'Keefe
    Depending on the specific details, the debt(s) may be a liability of the decedent's (father's, when he dies) estate. Based on what you have said, it appears unlikely the family members would be personally liable for the father's debt(s), but again it depends on the facts and I don't have the whole story.
    Answer Applies to: Maryland
    Replied: 8/1/2012
    Rags Beals Seigler Patterson & Gray
    Rags Beals Seigler Patterson & Gray | Ronald D. Reemsnyder
    Debts of your father unless secured by an asset shared with others are solely his responsibility or the responsibility of his estate Sent from my iPhone Confidentiality Notice: This email is intended only for those addressees shown in the " to" and "cc" headers. Please delete this email if you are not such an intended recipient. Review of this email by other than the intended recipients does not waive the attorney client , work product or other privileges. Only clients may rely on this email- if you are not my client, please be advised that I am not providing legal advice to you.
    Answer Applies to: Georgia
    Replied: 8/1/2012
    Mike Yeksavich | Mike Yeksavich
    I am not sure I have enough facts to answer the question. However as a general rule a person's debt is private to that person. It is important for what the debt is for. If this becomes a serious issue please consult with an attorney.
    Answer Applies to: Oklahoma
    Replied: 8/1/2012
    Darrell B. Reynolds, P.C. | Darrell B. Reynolds
    The death benefits is probably life insurance? The debts incurred by your father solely would be debts of the estate. It would be the obligation of the estate to establish if the estate could pay the debt. Debts are paid first out of the estate before any distributions are made.
    Answer Applies to: Georgia
    Replied: 8/1/2012
    James T. Dunn PC | James T. Dunn
    Under Utah's family expense statute, the wife, but not the children are responsible for debt incurred by the deceased to provide the "necessaries of life" which include, clothing, food, shelter, and medical care. Any frivolous or other expenditures, the surviving spouse is not reponsible for. However, the Probate Code makes clear that there can be no distribution to heirs until all debts of the decedent are paid. To the extent that distributions of the estate are made to survivors of the deceased when a proper claim has been made against the estate, the personal representative or heirs who receive $ can be hedld liable to the creditor who did not get paid.
    Answer Applies to: Utah
    Replied: 8/1/2012
    Minor, Bandonis and Haggerty, P.C.
    Minor, Bandonis and Haggerty, P.C. | Brian Haggerty
    His estate is bound to pay the debts. If the assets in his estate are insufficient to pay his debts, then they may go unpaid. Debts which are "expenses of the family" may be charged to the spouse in some cases.
    Answer Applies to: Oregon
    Replied: 8/1/2012
    Law Offices of Frances Headley | Frances Headley
    Most debts incurred during marriage are considered community debts and the surviving spouse remains liable for those debts. There are some special rules related to taxes. You should consult a family law/estate planning attorney to review all of the facts and advise you.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 8/1/2012
    Sebby Law Office
    Sebby Law Office | Jayne Sebby
    Whether your mother, yourself, or your siblings become liable for the debt depends on a number of factors. Did your father accrue this debt in his name alone? Is the debt part of a business that your family operates or is part of? Is the debt due to a gambling problem or some other problem? Does it have some connection with his illness? Did he secure the debt with property he jointly owned with any of you? In a normal situation, the estate alone is responsible for the decendant's debts. However, in some situations, others may also be held responsible. Check with an estate attorney for specific answers.
    Answer Applies to: Nebraska
    Replied: 8/1/2012
    Olson Law Firm | Edward M Olson
    Upon your father's death, his debts pass to his estate. No one else is personally liable for his debts (except to the extent that you hide his assets from his creditors). You should probably speak to an attorney soon.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 8/1/2012
    The Law Offices of Laurie E. Ohall, P.A.
    The Law Offices of Laurie E. Ohall, P.A. | Laurie E. Ohall
    In Florida, generally, the family is not liable for the debt of the decedent if it was incurred in the decedent's individual name. For example, if your father had a credit card solely in his name, and the charges were all his charges, your mother would not be responsible for that bill. Similarly, a surviving spouse is not responsible for the medical bills of the decedent spouse (unless the surviving spouse agreed to be responsible). That being said, if your father does not have an estate to probate (i.e., he had assets solely in his name that did not have a beneficiary designation or were not owned jointly with someone), then his creditors are out of luck because they can only have a claim against probate assets. Life insurance usually names a beneficiary, so there is no probate of life insurance proceeds/death benefits.
    Answer Applies to: Florida
    Replied: 7/31/2012
    Whiteford, Taylor, & Preston | Edwin Fee
    Generally, a deceased person's spouse and children are not responsible for the deceased person's debts, unless the spouse or children somehow agreed to be responsible for the debts (for example, by co-signing a loan).
    Answer Applies to: Maryland
    Replied: 7/31/2012
    Law Offices of Christopher R. Smitherman, LLC | Christopher R. Smitherman
    Generally speaking.... No unless the other person executed a contract accepting liability or responsibility. The Estate may be responsible for it. The real question then becomes .....at death, what is part of your father's estate Somethings pass outside of the estate..... life insurance benefits, jointly held assets which have rights of survivorship reserved, etc The primary point is that things that are outside the Estate can not be touched by the creditors.
    Answer Applies to: Alabama
    Replied: 7/31/2012
    Law Offices of Michael N. Stafford | Michael N. Stafford
    Children are not responsible for the unknown debts of their parents. Your father's estate will be responsible for his debts and your mother could be responsible for your father's debts.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 7/31/2012
    Salladay Law Office | Lance Salladay
    If your father and mother were still married at the time of his death, the debt would be considered a community debt and your mother would still have liability for the debt. It may be possible if your mother can show that the debt was incurred without any reliance on her assets or income, she may be able to avoid the debt although it is unlikely. However none of the children would have any liability for the debt.
    Answer Applies to: Idaho
    Replied: 7/31/2012
    The Curran Law Firm
    The Curran Law Firm | Maura Curran
    The answer to your question requires further information. However, generally if no other person agreed to pay for your father's medical bills, etc., then those bills are his and his alone, and typically children do not inherit the debts of a parent. Florida has laws benefitting marital property, such as a bank account or homestead property, that can protect the property from one spouse's debts. There are certain requirements that must be met and you should consult an attorney to discuss your particular circumstances to find out who is liable to pay for the medical bills, etc. and if there is anything that can be done to preserve the marital assets.
    Answer Applies to: Florida
    Replied: 7/31/2012
    Charles M. Schiff, Attorney at Law
    Charles M. Schiff, Attorney at Law | Charles M. Schiff
    Under the circumstances you set forth, neither you nor your mother should be liable for your father's debts. His estate is responsible for his debts. If he owns any property at his death, it may be available to his creditors. His spouse is entitled to some benefits from his estate even before the creditor claims are honored.
    Answer Applies to: Minnesota
    Replied: 7/31/2012
    Leonard A. Kaanta, P.C. | Leonard A. Kaanta
    No, your are not responsible for his debt, but his estate is. The insurance policy is not part of the estate.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 7/31/2012
    Grant Morris Dodds | Mark Dodds
    If your mother does not know about the debt, then she could not have consented to the debt; therefore, your mother has no personal obligation for the debt upon your father's death. However, upon your father's death, his estate, consisting of his separate property (and his community property, if he resides in a community proper state), is liable for any of your father's just debts. Therefore, upon your father's death, the creditor may sue his estate for payment of the debt. Thus, although your mother may anticipate inheriting all of your father's estate, that estate will be liable to pay the debt, and if the creditor is successful in making its claim against the estate, your mother will, in effect, pay for the debt due to inheriting your father's estate subject to this debt. With that said, if your mother is the direct beneficiary of the life insurance proceeds, the creditor may not reach the $18,000 death benefit from the insurance policy, as long as those proceeds are not payable to your father's estate. If your mother is deceased, then the same principles apply to the children as inheritors of the estate. In no event will your mother or the children be obligated for the debt in excess of the value of your father's estate, excluding the insurance proceeds. So, for example, let's say your father's debt is $50,000, and that he has separate property valued at $20,000 and there is $18,000 in death benefit payable to your mother under the insurance policy. The creditor may go after only the $20,000 of separate assets of your father, and if the creditor is successful in collecting the $20,000 in satisfaction of the debt, that is all the creditor will be able to receive. The creditor cannot sue your mother or the children for the $30,000 remaining on the debt, neither can the creditor touch the insurance proceeds.
    Answer Applies to: Nevada
    Replied: 7/31/2012
    Musilli Brennan Associates PLLC
    Musilli Brennan Associates PLLC | John F Brennan
    You will have to provide more details for a firm answer, but in general if it is his debt only it will be a claim against his estate, and no others. Now is the time to put a plan in place and review his, and your mother's situation. Make an appointment with my offices, or call an attorney with all of the facts for specific advise and counsel.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 7/31/2012
    Brown, Paindiris & Scott, LLP
    Brown, Paindiris & Scott, LLP | Simon J. Lebo
    Generally speaking the family of the decedent does not have liability for the debts of the decedent, except a surviving spouse has liability for certain debts and expenses of the decedent, including the funeral expenses and in some cases the last illness expenses. To the extent the decedent leaves property, that property is subject to recovery by the creditors in most situations.
    Answer Applies to: Connecticut
    Replied: 7/31/2012
    Martinson & Beason, PC
    Martinson & Beason, PC | Douglas C Martinson II
    The debt is your father's alone unless your mother signed or unless he pledged or mortgaged property that he owned. At your father's debt, any non-probate death benefits (life insurance policies with a beneficiary other than the estate, joint bank accounts or join property with survivorship) would pass outside the estate and not be subject to the creditors. If the loan is unsecured (no car, land, etc. pledged against it), then the creditor would have to file a claim against his estate. The surviving spouse would get the first $15,500 (if she files for that with the court), then the cost of administration and funeral expenses would be paid before the creditor received anything.
    Answer Applies to: Alabama
    Replied: 7/31/2012
    Law Office Of Victor Waid
    Law Office Of Victor Waid | Victor Waid
    Probably not in light of the value of his estate.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 7/31/2012
    Timiney Law Firm
    Timiney Law Firm | Leigh Anne Timiney
    In a community law or community property state, such as Arizona, when one spouse incurs a debt, that debt is the responsibility of both spouses. Technically that debt is the legal responsibility of both of your parents. In a situation where a person is not married and they pass away, their debts become the responsibility of their estate.
    Answer Applies to: Arizona
    Replied: 7/31/2012
    Gordon F. Gault PC | Gordon F Gault
    The surviving spouse could have some responsibility but it is usually not enforced. The children have no responsibility. The life insurance is not subject to any liens.
    Answer Applies to: Illinois
    Replied: 7/31/2012
    Frederick & Frederick PLC | James P Frederick
    The family is not responsible for this unless they agreed to be responsible for it. Your father's ESTATE, if he has one, would be responsible for creditor claims. His estate would consist of any assets that your father has in his name alone, without beneficiaries designated.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 7/31/2012
    Roman Aminov
    Roman Aminov | Roman Aminov
    The family members do not owe the debt personally, but the proceeds from his estate may be used to pay the debt. The answer depends on the nature of the death benefits his estate or family members are owed.
    Answer Applies to: New York
    Replied: 7/31/2012
    The DeRose Lawfirm | Peter J. DeRose
    You or your Mother personally, are not responsible for this debt. However, your Father's estate will be responsible. If your Father has property you need to consult with a skilled attorney regarding your options. There is a chance that something can be done.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 7/31/2012
    DEAN T. JENNINGS, P.C.
    DEAN T. JENNINGS, P.C. | Dean T Jennings
    Not the children possibly the wife if it was a joint debt of some kind. If all property was owned jointly the surviving spouse - wife - owns the property and the jointly owned property is not subject to claims of the creditors.
    Answer Applies to: Iowa
    Replied: 7/31/2012
    Shutt Law Firm, PLLC
    Shutt Law Firm, PLLC | Isaac Shutt
    No, only his estate is liable for his debts. None of the family will be liable for the debts, unless someone co-signed on the debt.
    Answer Applies to: Texas
    Replied: 7/31/2012
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