If You Had Power of Attorney for Your Parent
If you paid your parentís bills under a power of attorney while your mother or father was alive, that authority terminates at the time of the principalís death. After the principalís death, the only person with authority to pay bills out of the decedentís estate is the executor, personal representative or administrator of the estate. Provided you acted properly in your capacity as agent and did not agree to be personally responsible for any of your parentís debts, you are not liable for your parentís debts simply because you had power of attorney.
When Bill Collectors Pursue You for Your Parentís Debts
If you are being harassed by a collection agency, debt buyer or an attorney representing a debt collector attempting to collect your deceased parentís debts, visit our Debt Collectors page for a list of steps you can take to stop the harassment.
Note: The information on this page applies to the responsibility of children for debts of a deceased parent. It does not address the duties of an executor, personal representative or administrator of an estate to pay the deceased personís debts out of estate assets. If you are the child of the deceased and have been appointed to administer your parentís estate, refer to our Executors page for information about an executorís duties and consult a probate lawyer regarding creditor claims against the estate.
Is a Child Responsible For Deceased Parentís Debts?
In most instances, the adult children of the deceased are not liable for the debts of their deceased parents. However, there are some exceptions. One of the advantages of probate is it provides a formal process to resolve creditor claims within statutory time frames. If a creditor fails to submit a claim against the estate within the required deadlines, its claim is generally barred thereafter.
Credit Card Bills of a Deceased Parent
Unless you are a joint account holder or authorized user on your deceased parentís credit card, or made charges on your parentís credit card, you are not liable to pay the credit card bills. These types of credit card debts are the responsibility of your parentís estate. If your parentís estate is insolvent, the creditor will not get paid. While you may feel a moral obligation to pay your deceased parentís credit card bills, you are not legally liable if you were not a joint account holder or authorized user and did not make charges on the card.
This does not mean you wonít be targeted by debt collectors and collection agencies for your parentís debts. The tactics used by collection agencies and debt buyers have become much more aggressive. If your parent leaves behind a mountain of debt when he or she dies, you are likely to receive threatening phone calls and letters from creditors, irrespective of your relationship with the deceased. These debt collectors count on the fact that you may be unaware of your legal rights. They are often successful in collecting money from the adult children of the deceased simply by using intimidation tactics.
If you are contacted by a credit card company or a collection agency about your deceased parentís credit card debt, tell them to contact the executor or administrator of the estate. State probate laws provide a process for creditors to file a claim against the estate. If you do not want to be responsible for your parentís debts, never make representations or statements to the creditor indicating you are willing to pay the debt or want to negotiate the amount owed, and donít make partial payment. By entering into such negotiations, making partial payment or discussing payment arrangements, you could end up assuming responsibility for the debt. Contact an attorney licensed in your state for assistance with aggressive bill collectors.
Debts of the Estate and Your Inheritance
Any debts owed by your deceased parent must be paid from assets in the estate before inheritances may be distributed to the heirs or beneficiaries. If the amount of your parentís debt exceeds the value of the estate, estate property will be sold to pay the debt. Certain types of property, such as vehicles, are often subject to liens by a secured creditor. If the loan amount outstanding at the time of the debtorís death is not paid, the vehicle will be repossessed. Before property subject to a lien can be transferred to an heir or beneficiary, the unpaid loan amount must be paid.
Your Parentís Nursing Home Bills
If your deceased parent incurred bills for long term care or assisted living that were unpaid at the time of his or her death, the laws of some states allow the provider of care to collect payment from the parentís adult children. For more information, refer to our page on a Parentís Nursing Home Bills.