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If someone dies owing a debt, does the debt go away when they die?

No, when someone dies owing a debt, the debt does not go away. Generally, the deceased person’s estate is responsible for paying any unpaid debts. The estate’s finances are handled by the personal representative, executor, or administrator. That person pays any debts from the money in the estate, not from their own money. 

Generally, no one else is legally obligated to repay the debt of a person who has died, but there are exceptions to this rule. For example: 

  • If there was a co-signer on a loan, the co-signer owes the debt
  • If there is a joint account holder on a credit card, the joint account holder owes the debt. A joint account holder is different from an “authorized user.” An authorized user is not usually responsible for the amount owed
  • If state law requires a spouse to pay a particular type of debt
  • If state law requires the executor or administrator of the deceased person’s estate to pay an outstanding bill out of property that was jointly owned by the surviving and deceased spouse
  • In community property states, the surviving spouse may be required to use community property to pay debts of a deceased spouse. The community property states are Alaska (if a special agreement is signed), Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin

If there was no joint account, co-signer, or other exception, only the estate of the deceased person owes the debt. 

You may want to talk to a lawyer if you are being contacted by a creditor or debt collector about a deceased person’s debts or if you have questions about whether you are responsible for those debts. To find an attorney, you can contact a lawyer referral service in your area and ask for an attorney with experience in consumer law, estate or probate matters, debt collection defense, or the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Some attorneys may offer free services, or charge a reduced fee. There may also be legal aid offices or legal clinics in your area who will offer their services for free if you meet their criteria. Servicemembers should consult their local JAG office .

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