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'Til Death Do Them Part: Creditor Rights
Settling the affairs of a deceased love one is never easy. When the decedent has outstanding debts to credit card companies, mortgage lenders, or other institutions, the process is further complicated. 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 instance, a co-signor on a loan may be liable for the debt under certain circumstances.
If no exception applies (meaning no one else can be held liable for the outstanding amount), then the decedent's estate is responsible for paying the debts, to the extent the debt is validly claimed. Pursuant to Kentucky law, there is a six-month (6) creditor claims period in which any creditors of a decedent's estate may file a claim for their unpaid debt. It is the personal representative's responsibility to either "allow" or "disallow" these claims as filed, depending upon the sufficiency of the information pertaining to the claimed debt, the amount of assets in the estate to fulfill said debt, whether said debt was secured or unsecured, etc. If there are not sufficient assets in the decedent's estate to cover the debts, they will go entirely or partially unpaid.
If you are a relative of a deceased, but not the executor or administrator of the estate, a debt collector may contact you to get the name, address, and telephone number of the deceased person's spouse, parent (if the deceased person was a minor), executor, or administrator. The collector cannot discuss the debt with you or, in most cases, contact you more than once for information. Should this happen, however, you should inform the personal representative of the creditor's contact in order to enable the personal representative to act on behalf of the estate as it pertains to the debt.
If you are an executor or administrator for a decedent's estate, then creditors do have a right to contact you and discuss the deceased's debt pursuant to the Fair Debt Collection Protection Act. However, no debt collector should harass you. To prevent harassment, you must send a letter to the debt collector stating that you do not want the debt collector to contact you again. Once a debt collector receives your letter, it may not contact you again except to:
- Tell you there will be no further contact, or
- Advise you that the collector or the creditor may take specific legal action.
The time after a loved one passes can be emotionally difficult and logistically stressful, as family and friends sort out the remaining affairs. If you are being harassed by a debt collector over a decedent's death, consider contacting the state attorney general's office, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or an attorney.
This article is intended as a summary of federal and state law and does not constitute legal advice.