Settling the affairs of someone who passes away is not always easy, especially if that persons died while owing creditors. Depending on the nature of the debt, these creditors may pursue surviving family members for the balance, and if the family is not careful, creditors may convince them to pay debts they do not legally owe.

One of the first things that many people ask when these issues arise is “who pays the deceased person’s debts?” The short answer, with only a few exceptions, is the deceased person pays their own debts, or at least their estate does. This usually means that a deceased person’s creditors may settle their debts from the assets of the deceased before the rest of the survivors divide the estate.

What if there is not enough value in the estate to pay the debts?

Sometimes, the deceased person’s estate does not hold enough value to pay all of the debts they owe. In this case, the rest of the debt simply goes unpaid, at least most of the time. In some cases, a spouse may bear some responsibility for the debts of a deceased person, especially if they were co-signatories to a loan. In most other instances, the debt dies with the person, once repayment depletes the estate.

This does mean, unfortunately, that it is not possible to execute a deceased person’s will. If, for instance, the family of the deceased must sell some of the deceased’s land to pay debts, then they cannot divide that land among themselves according to the wishes listed in the will.

Can you stop creditors from making contact?

If a deceased relative’s creditors continue to contact you about the relative’s debt, you can force them to stop by writing them a formal letter asking them to cease contact. Legally, the creditors must stop attempting to contact you after they receive your letter, or they may face stiff penalties.

It is important to understand that creditors may still choose to sue the estate of your deceased relative, and that may include contact with you, if you are the person in charge of administering the estate.

Navigating the loss of a loved one is rarely easy on its own, let alone dealing with creditors with little regard for your rights or the emotional weight of the circumstances. Make sure to understand your rights and the tools you have to protect them as you work to settle this matter fairly.