The loss of a parent is a heartbreaking experience, and discovering that your parent had a large amount of debt can add even more stress to the situation. Usually, creditors have a certain period of time in which to make claims against your parent’s estate. In most cases, you are not responsible for the debts of your deceased parent and if there are not enough assets the debt dies with them; however, in certain circumstances you can be on the hook to pay for what your parent left behind. Responsibility for debts is typically determined by the type of debt, the assets available, and where your parent resided.
Assets can be protected from creditors even if your parent passed on with debt. If you are listed as the beneficiary of a retirement account or life insurance policy that money cannot be touched by creditors. However, other assets in the estate may have to be sold in order to pay off the debts of creditors. This can greatly reduce or eliminate your inheritance from your parent’s estate.
Credit Card Debt
In most cases, you are not responsible for the credit card debt of your parent. However, if you are a co-signor for your parent’s credit cards then you can be held liable for the debt. Credit card companies are considered low priority creditors. That means that they fall behind other lenders, funeral care costs, and tax agencies. If you are responsible for paying off your parent’s credit card debt, typically the credit card companies will agree to negotiate a lower payment because of their low priority.
Medical Care Debt
Deciding who is responsible for unpaid medical bills is separated into two categories: those who were on Medicaid and those who were not. If your parent was on Medicaid then you are not responsible for the debt. Under Medicaid rules, the only major asset that a person can possess and qualify for Medicaid is a home. The state can place a lien on the home to recover payments, but that money will come from the estate.
If your parent was not on Medicaid and had unpaid medical bills, state law determines whether or not you are responsible for the debt. The estate must first try to pay off all outstanding medical bills from estate assets. If the debt remains, “filial responsibility” may mandate that you pay off the remainder. Almost thirty states have filial responsibility statutes that require adult children to pay off the remaining debt if the estate cannot.
If you inherit your parent’s home and it comes with a mortgage you may be responsible for the underlying debt. If the mortgage exceeds the value of the home you can consider foreclosing in order to pay off the mortgage on the property. After the foreclosure sale if mortgage debt still remains the bank can go after the estate for the difference. If you wish to keep the inherited home then you are responsible for making all mortgage payments on the home going forward.
You are not responsible for paying off the taxes of your parent. Government agencies are usually top priority creditors and they can take from the estate to pay off outstanding taxes, but they cannot go after you for any remaining balance if the estate is unable to pay it off in its entirety.