Generally, no one else is legally obligated to repay the debt of a person who has died, except the estate of the decedent. The responsibility for paying the debt falls to the executor or administrator of the decedent’s estate. As a spouse, you are usually not personally responsible for these debts, even if you are the appointed executor or administrator of the estate. But there are exceptions to this rule.
For example, if there was a co-signer, the co-signer owes the debt. So, if the surviving spouse co-signed, then that spouse will be jointly liable with the estate of the decedent.
If there was no co-signer or other exception, 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 because there are no assets left in the estate or the claim is denied because of the statute of limitations. Nonetheless, you may want to pay the secured debts of house mortgage and car, or else it will foreclosed or repossessed.
As an administrator /executor of an estate, you can tell the decedent’s debts collectors from contacting you about the debt. To exercise this right, you must send a letter to the debt collector stating that you do not want the debt collector to contact you again. A request during the telephone call is not enough. Make a copy of your letter for your files, and consider sending the original by certified mail, and paying for a “return receipt” so you can document what the collector received and when. Once a debt collector receives your letter, it may not contact you again except to:
- Tell you there will be no further contact
- Advise you that it or the creditor may take other specific actions it is legally allowed to take, such as a lawsuit against you
Keep in mind that even if you stop debt collectors from communicating with you, the decedent’s estate may still be responsible for the debt. The debt collector may file a claim against the estate like any other creditor.