Who Is Responsible For A Deceased Relative’s Debt?


When someone passes away, their family members may not expect debt collectors to seek payment for the decedent’s debt, but this practice has grown over the years.  Following a death, debt collectors will demand payment for what they say was owed to them by the decedent.  Thinking clearly can be difficult while grieving so be carefully when handling these issues, which is why it’s important to contact an experienced estate administration attorney


estate administration debt

According to the Federal Trade Commission, the surviving relatives are usually not legally obligated to pay debts of a deceased family member.  The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) prohibits these debt collectors from using deceptive, abusive or unfair practices, and covers the collections of what is commonly referred to as “dead man’s debt”. 

In most situations, the estate of the decedent pays the debts.  A person’s assets or remaining property pay off the debts, but the debts will go unpaid if there are not enough assets left to pay the debt. 

Usually, you have no legal obligation to pay your deceased relative’s debt.  Even if your spouse died, state probate laws may put limits on your obligations.  It is recommended to consult an attorney to determine if you have any legal obligation.  

If there is a representative of the decedent’s estate, you can give their address and number to debt collectors.  You never want to give your personal information to a debt collector, including your birthday, social security number or financial information.  There is a chance the debt collector could be a scam artist. 

You do not need to nor should speak to a debt collector unless you are the representative or executor of the decedent’s estate.  


It is important to remember that you are not personally responsible for the debts of your deceased relative.  Unless you cosigned on a credit card or loan, you have no legal obligation to pay any debt.  The debt belongs to the decedent’s estate, not you.

An estate attorney near me can meet with you to determine what the assets are, which need to be paid, which can be ignored and which may be able to be reduced.  I usually advise survivors of the deceased, for example, not to pay unsecured debts such as credit cards.  


Knowing where to start with an estate can be the trickiest part.  Our office offers a roadmap / checklist meeting for estate administrations, i.e. what steps have to be taken, how to take them, the steps to get through the process and how to close the estate.  

Charles J. Moore is an award winning estate and very experienced administration attorney with offices in St. Charles and O’Fallon, Missouri.  He assists clients with estate administrations in St. Charles / St. Louis / Franklin / Warren and Lincoln Counties.  Call (636) 486-2669 for a FREE CONSULTATION today!