From the FTC

From the FTC: Who Is Responsible for Paying a Deceased Person’s Debts?

In the months after a relative dies, family members may get telephone calls from debt collectors asking them to pay the deceased individual’s bills.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warns that “family members typically are not obligated to pay the debts of a deceased relative from their own assets.”

The FTC explains “the estate of the deceased person owes the debt. If there isn’t enough money in the estate to cover the debt, it typically goes unpaid.” However, there are exceptions. A family member may be responsible for the debt if her or she:

  • Co-signed the obligation;
  • Lives in a community property state;
  • Is the deceased person’s spouse and state law requires a spouse to pay a particular type of debt, such as some health care expenses; or
  • Was legally responsible for resolving the estate and didn’t comply with certain state probate laws.

Relatives have protection under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Debt collectors may call them in some cases. For example:

  • Collectors are allowed to contact third parties (such as relatives) to get the name, address and telephone number of the deceased person’s spouse, executor, administrator or other person authorized to pay the debts.
  • Collectors usually can contact such third parties only once to get this information. The main exception is if a collector reasonably believes that the information provided initially was inaccurate or incomplete, and that the third party now has more accurate or complete information. But, collectors cannot say anything about the debt to the third party.

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