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Can you be responsible for a deceased parent’s debts?

Losing a parent can be one of the most difficult things you may ever go through. In addition to the emotional toll the loss of a parent can take, you may also have to work through a number of estate planning and probate-related matters. If your parents failed to make estate plans, you may face even more of an uphill battle.

If your parent passed away and left considerable debt behind, you may begin fielding calls from debt collectors trying to get you to pay what your mother or father owed. Are you actually responsible for these debts if your parent dies before taking care of them?

Understanding debt liability

The good news is, typically, you are not going to be on the hook for any outstanding debts your deceased parents left behind, but there are a few exceptions. In most cases, instead of your parent’s debts becoming “your” debts, they instead become liabilities of your parent’s estate. If there are not enough assets in the estate to cover those debts, they may simply go unpaid. There are, however, several distinct situations in which you may be responsible for a deceased parent’s debts.

Important exceptions

Typically, the only way you can become legally responsible for a deceased parent’s debt is if your parent left debt behind that you co-signed or applied for with him or her. If, for example, your parent left an unpaid credit card balance behind and you were a cosigner on that credit card, you may, in fact, be responsible for paying off any remaining balance. Similarly, if your parent took out a loan and your name is on that loan, it may be your responsibility to cover what remains of it.

In summary, do not automatically believe what a debt collector tells you about your obligations when it comes to your deceased parent’s debts. That person has a job to do, and he or she may use unethical means in his or her attempts to get you to pay up.

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