In most cases, your creditors will not be able to pursue your heirs if there isn’t enough money in your estate to cover all the financial obligations. The one exception would be your spouse. After a spouse dies, his or her debts remain on the books and they still need to be paid off, meaning that they will be among the first to be paid from the estate.

State Law Dictates Who Pays for the Debt

In many cases, people have a valid last will and testament in place when they die, and the executor that had been named in the document will be responsible for paying these obligations out of the assets contained in the estate. If the decedent failed to name an executor or died without having a valid will, then the probate court will generally appoint an administrator who will have the same responsibilities.

Sometimes, the state requires the surviving spouse to repay a particular debt. Also, the state may require the executor to pay a particular debt out of the estate. In this case, the money would need to come from marital property that both the surviving spouse and the deceased spouse owned together.

Other Examples

The law may require that other family members repay the deceased person’s debts. This would be true in the following scenarios:

-You cosigned a loan with the decedent.
-You are a joint account holder with the decedent on a credit card.

However, if you were merely an authorized user of a credit card or other financial product, you would not be required to pay the debt after the cardholder passes away.

If You Fail to Pay Your Deceased Spouse’s Debts

A failure to pay your deceased spouse’s debts will result in collections activities against you from the creditors. This is something that you should prevent because collection agencies report these delinquent debts to the credit bureaus. You must be aware that these types of reports will cause your credit score to go down considerably. As a result, everything will become more expensive for you.

This situation can get even worse than the one described above. If the creditor decides to obtain a judgment against you, then your wages can be garnished for nonpayment of a debt. It may even be able to levy your bank accounts. On top of that, a creditor may be able to go after your other property, and this includes any real estate you currently own.

Estate Planning

These are nightmare scenarios that you want to ensure that your family members do not have to experience. You can protect them by purchasing a life insurance policy that they will be able to use to pay any debts left over after you pass away. This plan also ensures that the debts will not be paid with your assets. Then you will be free to create a will so that your property can go directly to your heirs.

Estate planning is a very good idea for you if you are concerned about your heirs being required to pay your debts after you pass away. The best way to do this is to hire an experienced estate planning lawyer. This type of an attorney will help you set up several types of estate planning products, including special needs trusts, family limited partnerships, charitable gift or foundation planning, health care proxies, living wills, powers of attorney, trusts, and wills.


Some people opt to create a trust rather than a will. A trust allows you to distribute your property to the beneficiaries that are named in the document, but they can receive these assets without having to undergo what can often be a confusing and lengthy process of probate. You will be able to list your family members and others along with the property that you would like to leave them as well as your debts and how they will be paid.

If you would like to consult with an experienced and knowledgeable estate planning and administration lawyer to protect your loved ones, contact the Knee Law Firm. Our offices are conveniently located near you in Hackensack, New Jersey. Call us at (210) 996-1200 today, or fill out and submit the contact form that can be found on our website.