If you’ve been named the executor (sometimes known as administrator or personal representative) of a loved one’s or friend’s estate, one of the first things you need to do after they pass away is to determine what debts they left. Certainly, this needs to be done before you begin disbursing any of the assets they bequeathed to family, charities or others.
Various types of debts are handled differently. Some debts follow a person to the grave, so to speak, and must be paid by the estate. Others may be discharged – especially if there aren’t enough assets in the estate to cover them. Determining what’s what before you start handing out money or property will save you considerable problems (and possibly financial losses of your own) later.
Let’s look at just a few common types of debt that are usually part of an estate:
These include unpaid taxes from previous years in addition to taxes owed for the year the person passed away. Determine what taxes of all kinds are due. You want to make sure the government gets paid before anyone else.
People who have been in the hospital or otherwise get medical treatment prior to their death can leave behind thousands of dollars in medical bills. The estate is typically responsible for those. It’s important to be sure you’re aware of everything owed to hospitals, ambulance services, nursing homes and other places providing care to the deceased.
It’s not uncommon for people to say they made a loan to the deceased that they never repaid. They should have some documentation to back that up if they want to make an official claim against the estate. That doesn’t mean the loan will be repaid in full if the assets simply aren’t there, however. The same is true for other unsecured debts, like credit cards.
One final note: Generally, creditors can’t require that surviving family repay a deceased person’s debt if it was solely in the deceased’s name. That doesn’t mean some won’t try to get money out of them.
It’s essential to deal with a deceased loved one’s debt correctly, without paying more than is required. This is just one reason why it is worthwhile to have sound legal guidance through estate administration and probate.