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Feature Articles: Miscellaneous


Deceased relative’s debt: Who is responsible?


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After a person dies, grieving family members may not expect debt collectors to seek payment for the deceased’s debts, but this practice has grown in the past few years. Following someone’s death, debt collectors demand payment for what they say the deceased owed them. It is difficult to think clearly when you are in the early stage of grief, so be careful!


According to the Federal Trade Commission, surviving relatives usually have no legal obligation to pay the debts of a deceased family member. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) prohibits debt collectors from using abusive, unfair or deceptive practices, and covers the collection of what is sometimes referred to as “dead man’s debt.”


Who is responsible for paying the debts of a deceased relative?


Usually, the estate of the deceased person pays the debts. A person’s remaining property or assets pay the debts off, but if there are not enough assets left to pay the debt, it goes unpaid.


Am I legally obligated to pay my deceased relative’s debt?


You do not usually have any legal obligation to pay off your deceased relative’s debt. Even if your spouse died, state probate law may limit your obligations. To determine if you have any legal obligation, consult an attorney. For help with finding an attorney, go to the Missouri Bar Association’s Find a Lawyer web page or contact them directly at: The Missouri Bar; 326 Monroe, P.O. Box 119; Jefferson City, MO 65102-0119; Phone: (573) 635-4128; Fax: (573) 635-2811; E-mail:


What should I do if a debt collector contacts me about a debt of a deceased relative?


If someone is representing the estate of the deceased, you can give debt collectors the representative’s number or address. Never give a debt collector your personal information, particularly not your Social Security number, financial information or birthday. Debt collectors who try to collect debts from grieving relatives may actually be scam artists trying to take advantage of people.


Do I have to speak to the debt collector?


You do not have to speak to the debt collector unless you are the person in charge of the deceased’s estate (often called the representative or executor), in which case it would be your responsibility to settle the debt out of the estate’s assets.


Can I stop the debt collectors from calling me?


Yes. You can write a letter to the debt collector telling them not to contact you again. Keep one copy of the letter for your records and mail it through certified mail with a return receipt requested so you have a record that the letter was received. After that, they may not contact you unless it is to say they will not contact you again or to inform you of any legal action they may take, which may involve suing the deceased’s estate.


Remember that you are not personally responsible for your deceased relative’s debt. Unless you were a cosigner on a loan or credit card, you have no legal obligation to pay the debt. The debt belongs to the estate, not you.


Adapted from the Federal Trade Commission. (June 2009). Paying the debts of a deceased relative: Who is responsible? Consumer Action Report, Washington DC.


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Last update: Tuesday, October 18, 2011